You've Come A Long Way, Baby Chapter 17

By Imrahil

This was bad news. Very bad news.

Jacob Lehns slowly swiveled his chair around until he was facing the enormous window behind him. He sat, staring at the window, deep in thought, his fingers steepled below his chin.

The Law Layer had always been so dark, yet strangely attractive. He still remembered the day the Law Center had been finally completed, so many years ago. The Upper Wing members had held a private electoral meeting, where Jacob had made a stirring speech that he had hoped would put him into the position of Law Procurator. Due to the heightening animosity between Jacob and the other Upper Wing affiliates, it had been very surprising when his colleagues had actually voted him into power. He had been younger then, and more naïve. He had thought; no he knew that his new position would put him in the position to finally dominate the Upper Wing.

Over the years, he slowly begun to realize that he had been voted into office for one reason only: to be controlled. The Upper Wing authorities couldn’t destroy Jacob due to the man’s popularity with the plebian denizens of the Lower Layers, so they placed him in a position where he could do no harm. This new position would not only allow the Upper Wing to control Jacob, but his popularity as a reformist would slowly dissipate in the eyes of the lower class. This strange twist of irony still irritated Jacob to this very day. But Jacob didn’t blame them. His new ideas and radical plans would mean great reform in the world’s government. The Upper Wing would have lost considerable wealth and power if they had been forced to follow Jacob’s strategies.

Jacob had quickly discovered that his word as Law Procurator meant nothing in the Upper Wing, and soon, his ideas were completely ignored in cabinet meetings. Jacob, instead of sacrificing his job, quelled his anger and retreated back to his office. He used his private resources—for he was a very wealthy man—to buy a few labs in Hope Layer. He secretly employed the best and brightest scientific minds in the world and set them to work on new sciences. His efforts were a complete success, and he began to market his new products and technologies anonymously throughout the Layers. Over time, he had no choice but to expand his laboratories due to the rapidly changing level of technology and bring them to the public’s attention. The other Upper Wing members soon discovered his covert exploits, but they could do nothing. The world had come to depend on the amazing computers and organic machinery manufactured and improved upon by Jacob’s scientists. Jacob had achieved a complete monopoly in the electronics and biotechnology industries. He had power, once again. And as long as the other Upper Wing members didn’t have access to his amazing technology, he could retain that power.

Jacob swiveled back around and looked at the reports on his desk. All he saw on those papers was the word ‘Failure’. His largest research facility had been assaulted, and some of the most powerful weaponry in the world was now missing. Not only that, but four police officers were dead, not to mention another that was critically wounded. The two survivors of the assault had claimed to have seen otherworldly beings enter the facility and disable police officers as if they were complete incompetents. One of his most highly esteemed officers was hysterical as she was brought in, yelling gibberish about ‘magic’ and ‘monsters with no emotions’.

Jacob brought his fist down on his desk. He knew exactly what had happened. He had already watched the tapes brought to him by the security guard at the research center. And he knew who had orchestrated the assault. Jacob had immediately recognized Alex Raine as the leader of the assault group after examining the tapes.

Jacob had once thought of Alex as the most promising heir to his own position. Alex was dutifully loyal, completely undefeatable in battle, and entirely unaware of what was really happening behind the scenes of the Layer political system. But three months ago, Alex had begun doing something that most officers never even dreamed of doing: questioning authority. Instead of executing criminals who had committed unforgivable crimes, he brought them into custody. Alex had repeatedly insulted his division magistrate, according to the magistrate’s reports, and he had been late for duty on many occasions. Since nothing like Alex’s behavior had ever been documented before in a police officer, Jacob had simply slapped the rogue officer on the wrist and demoted him. Then, suddenly, Alex had overstepped his bounds. He had been witness to some unexplained events after hunting down a murderer, and without warning, Jacob’s secret little world of technological advancement became in danger of totally being brought into the open. Jacob did his best to satisfy the officer and take his mind off of what he had seen, but Alex had disappeared the next day.

And there was another problem; Alex had survived something that no man should have. According to Jacob’s top research scientists, Alex should have been killed by the very weapon that Jacob was trying to keep secret. And there was always the irritating and extremely disturbing fact that the weapon had disappeared directly after Alex had apprehended the criminal.

Jacob had given this enigma much thought. The weapon operated on a multi-dimensional level. The only way to cause it to malfunction was the improbable freak incident of multi-dimensional interference. That meant that someone somewhere would have to possess similar technology. Jacob had immediately sent an investigation unit to examine the area around the warehouse where the weapon was last seen, and sure enough, the residue of a huge disturbance was detected outside the warehouse, in an alley. Jacob had quickly checked to see if there had been a patrol around that area earlier that night, and he found out that a group of four Darkscape transients had been arrested there for loitering.

Jacob wanted to dig a little deeper, and he decided to interrogate these transients. Unfortunately, he found out that they had been illicitly released from prison, and the stand-in warden had eerily disappeared. And who had the stand-in warden been? Alex Raine. What did the time-space disturbance, four apparently celestial transients, and Alex Raine have in common? Jacob thought he would never know.

And now, as he stared at a still video image on his console screen, he almost shivered after counting the number of intruders with Alex. Four. It was almost too coincidental. Jacob had ordered every police unit to search every Layer for the intruders only a few moments ago. He knew they had to be somewhere, and he needed answers. Lots of them.

* * *

“You know, if you’re not going to help us, I really don’t think you should wear the boots we gave you.”

“Hey! Who asked you?” Crono said sternly as he snapped the heavy iron-soled boots on his feet. Everyone was dressed for battle, except for Alex. He hadn’t woken up yet.

“If you’re going to keep me here, paralyzed like this, I’m going to say pretty much whatever I want!” Noria yelled. She had lost much of her enchanting personality after waking up and discovering she was imprisoned. “Why can’t I teleport out of here!”

“The small chip that enabled you to do that is gone now, little one. You can stop concentrating like that,” Magus said as he nonchalantly twirled his scythe around his body, practicing for the battle yet to come.

“When Alex gets up, he’ll kill you all! I’ll see to that!” Noria yelled as she pulled against the invisible restraints that kept her rigid against the headboard of one of the beds.

“I don’t think so, really. I am an expert at erasing my emotions; it is a simple matter for me to do the same for another person, especially when it’s an artificial emotion induced by a fool.” Magus’ face remained completely calm as his hands twirled his scythe around his body faster and faster in unbelievably intricate patterns.

“Hey, check it out! He’s waking up!” Marle yelled as she bent over Alex’s still form. Her loud voice seemed to cause the unconscious police officer to cringe in pain.

“You gave him a revive, didn’t you?” Lucca whispered to Marle.

“We have to leave soon,” Marle whispered back defensively as she shrugged.

The police officer’s eyes fluttered open, and he quickly sat up in the bed. “Is everyone okay? Marle, Lucca? Are you alright?” His voice sounded sickly and raspy as he spoke.

“Of course we are, Alex, we’re fine. The real question right now is whether you’re okay or not,” Marle said as she rubbed a small cold washcloth on Alex’s sweat-covered brow.

“I guess…what happened, exactly? I remember attacking you, Marle, but everything goes black after that…I guess you won,” Alex said with a small smile.

“Yeah, I guess. Do you feel like getting up?” Marle asked.

Alex bent his neck from side to side and stretched his arms. “I suppose.” He stepped out of the bed, and his head immediately snapped toward the incarcerated figure of Noria.

“Hello, lover, how are you?” Noria said with a fiendish grin on her face.

“Noria…you’re still here…” Alex started sweating again.

“Perhaps now isn’t the time to speak with her again, officer,” Magus said after halting his practices. The mage grabbed Alex’s arm in an attempt to pull him away from the foul temptress.

“Let him speak to his beloved, will you? Alex, come over here and kiss me,” Noria said. “And get your tall friend to release these bonds off of me as well, will you?”

Alex walked over to Noria, easily shaking Magus’ hand off his shoulder. “Rest now, Noria, for we take our leave.”

“But beloved! You cannot leave me here!” Noria poised her body seductively as she stared at the large police officer.

“Let’s get going, guys. She’ll be fine here,” Alex said as he began to turn around.

Noria’s smile quickly changed into a frown.

“You can’t win! The few hundred of us that have been enhanced are more than a match for the Law Layer! You are too late! I will enjoy stepping upon your broken bodies after my brethren have ripped them apart. Don’t leave me here, fools, I will…” Her voice trailed off as the determined group walked down the empty corridor towards the lift.

“Where to, oh fearless leader?” Lucca said to Alex with a smile.

“The Law Center. We’ve got to warn the people there. What—?” Alex stopped when he saw the lift doors begin to open far ahead of the group.

“Police! Into this hall!” Magus hissed. The group disappeared down an adjoining hall just before the two armored law officers spotted them.

The five friends lay still with their backs against the wall as they listened to the approaching cops.

“I don’t see why we can’t just do a quick UV scan; I mean, this is really inefficient,” one said.

“Look, the magistrate wants every floor hand-scanned; we don’t have a friggin’ choice,” another said. The quiet beeping of machinery was suddenly audible.

“This place sucks; no one even lives here. The only good part was that maid back on floor three. Wow, she was hot,” the first voice continued.

“She sure hated you, though. Plus, it’s not like you could do anything more than talk to her. The magistrate would kill you if he found out you were having another illicit relationship. Hey, weird readings. Five people are in that hall over there,” the second voice said tentatively.

“Yeah; they’re just standing there,” the first one said quietly. “Police! Come out into the hall with your hands behind your heads!”

Everyone looked up at Alex, wide-eyed. “Let me do this,” he whispered.

Alex stepped into the main hall to face the policemen. Marle watched him adjust the heavy bracers that he was wearing, and saw him step forward, out of her view. She and her friends listened intently.

“That’s good, Raine. Now for the rest of your friends,” one officer said.

“I’m sorry? The rest of my friends?” the group heard Alex say innocently.

“The instruments don’t lie, you piece of—alright, fine. Nick, go bring ‘em over here; I’ll keep my eye on Raine, here. The instruments say they’re unarmed,” the same officer said tiredly.

“Sure thing. Alright, hands up, I’m coming around the corner slowly.” Marle waited patiently as the officer gradually came into view.

“Bye!” she heard Crono say loudly. She smiled as she watched a string of yellow electricity snake over her shoulder from behind her and enter the forehead of the unsuspecting police officer. Strangely enough, the officer seemed only briefly stunned, and he quickly reached for his weapon, which he had dropped on the floor. Marle inwardly laughed as she let her fist fly upward and crash into the man’s face, sending him flying into the air. She knew a quick uppercut would incapacitate the poorly prepared man. She ran into the hall, followed by her friends, with the hope of helping Alex. Fortunately, their large friend seemed to have had no trouble with the other officer.

Alex flashed a smile at his friends, perhaps his first real one, and pointed to the red face of the other police officer that was now residing in between Alex’s bicep and forearm. “So, ‘Miller’,” Alex began after looking at the name printed on the officer’s armor, “what are you searching this building for?”

“Looking…for…trash!” The officer spat out the last word in feverish rage. “Looks like we…found you!”

“Wow, that was a very intelligent response. Now I have to put you to sleep—” Alex quickly and deliberately punched the officer’s left temple with his extended forefinger, causing him to crumple into a heap on the ground.

“Was that really necessary, Alex?” Lucca said, wincing. “He could of told us something.”

“Probably not, and he’ll heal. Very quickly. We should move.” Alex said. He quickly moved toward the open doors of the lift and got in. His friends followed.

A few moments passed before the large mirrored lift doors silently slid open to reveal the hotel lobby. Magus inwardly smiled as they stepped into the well-lit marble room. Perhaps he would see some real action, now.

Everyone stared wide-eyed at the assembled force of well-armed police officers that had entrenched themselves in front of the lift.

“Okay, step forward, slowly, hands in the air. Slowly,” a man with a large assault rifle said into a small loudspeaker attached to the collar of his blue shirt.

“Forgot about those stupid cameras in the police suits, dammit,” Alex said under his breath.

“Shall we slay them all?” A voice spoke in the minds of the group. It was Magus. Everyone turned to him, surprised. The dark mage shrugged. “Shall we?” the same voice echoed.

“If you do not step out of the lift, we will be forced to open fire. Step out. Now.” The man’s voice was becoming impatient.

The friends heard an authoritative voice blare in their minds without warning. “Disable, don’t destroy. Make your way to the westernmost exit. My car is still there in the parking lot. Follow my lead, and ignore whatever happens to me.”

The strange telepathic link that Magus had silently formed between the group members grew stronger as Alex suddenly sprang forward out of the lift, somersaulting straight into the police officer holding the assault rifle.

The high-pitched whine of energy projectiles screamed through the air as the group of officers concentrated their fire on Alex’s swift form.

“Save Alex!” Marle thought sharply. She sensed a powerful feeling of decisive consent from her companions, and she sprinted through the door of the lift, followed by her friends.

The feeling of Alex’s intense pain through the telepathic link heightened the group’s determination. They could all feel Alex’s agony as he was being shot repeatedly in the midsection.

Marle yelled loudly and aimed her attack at a group of oblivious officers near a large marble pillar. By the time they stopped firing at Alex’s somersaulting form and turned back towards the lift, it was too late. With loud snaps and cracks, Marle gracefully punched and kicked her opponents, forming deadly, yet beautiful smears of color with her long legs and arms. Her legs flowed through the air silently as they crashed into the unsuspecting bodies of her adversaries. She bared her teeth as she knocked a large pistol from the hand of a shaky police officer and quickly flung a few ice daggers into his exposed abdomen. The rush was exhilarating. Her eyes flared. She could never tire of this.

Crono reacted to the pain in a much different way. Over the course of his adventures, he had learned to develop extremely advanced stamina. The intense and familiar sharpness of suffering helped Crono clear his mind. Time seemed to slow as he dashed through the center of the hall, behind Alex. His sword became an extension of his arm as he allowed it to rip through the abdomens of the police officers on either side of him. Wide, silvery circles appeared as Crono began to twirl his weapon faster around his body. Red explosions beside him seemed to help him focus himself even further. The proficiency and deadly accuracy of Crono’s talents were becoming more and more perceptible as he began to deflect the small energy projectiles that were being fired at him. Crono smiled and closed his eyes. This was too easy.

Lucca and Magus took up the rear. They flew through the air, holding hands. Huge gusts of fire seemed to appear out of the pair’s eyes as they slowly floated through the lobby. The police officers were panicking; scattering in every direction. Lucca and Magus smiled as they floated towards the exit, behind their companions who were clearing a path to the parking lot.

A few moments later, the group was outside. Lucca and Magus deftly melted the door shut behind them, and then returned to the ground. Marle was just finishing up healing the wounds that Alex had incurred in his suicide run. Crono was standing triumphantly with his arms crossed.

“We need to…move,” Alex said as he winced. Marle was still trying to heal some of his fresher wounds.

“That was a neat trick with the telepathy thing, Magus,” Lucca said, completely ignoring Alex.

“Yes, it seemed prudent at the time,” the mage answered. “Of course, I didn’t expect Alex to be so…foolish. That was not a smart move, Officer.”

“Yeah, well, it seemed prudent at the time, Magus. Let’s get going, quick. Backup will arrive shortly. And by shortly, I mean now.” Alex pointed at the large number of black objects amassing in the sky. They began to descend toward the group.

“Hmm, we could take ‘em,” Crono said with a wicked grin.

“No, we can’t,” Alex said, jumping into the pilot seat of his familiar-looking police car. “Get in, now!”

The group piled into the air transport and felt their stomachs curl up on their spines as the large vehicle lifted off and shot straight upwards into the blue sky of Hope Layer.

* * *

Jacob Lehns waved his hand in front of the black screen embedded in the console of his desk. The image of a grizzled police sergeant snapped onto the screen.

“Good news for me, Hicks?” Jacob growled. He knew by the wet smudge of blood on the sergeant’s bald forehead that there was another problem about to be brought to his attention.

“Sir, we located the criminals as you commanded, sir. But—”

“They took you by surprise? They—they blew through your defenses? They possess magic? They’re—monsters?” Jacob hissed, livid.

“Well, sir, I don’t buy that magic stuff, but they sure beat the hell out of us. We were ready for them, too, sir. We had an entrenched force of about thirty good men, sir, and they were able to disable all of us. I lost twelve of my—”

“Where are they now, sergeant?”

“Well, we think they’re headed…for the Law Layer, sir. A group of reinforcements reported that an unauthorized police transport vehicle was spotted heading straight for the Center. We sent a chase after them, but we lost them. Whoever’s piloting that thing is…damn good. Your orders?”

Jacob sat still, staring straight ahead. The sergeant furrowed his brow. “Mr. Lehns, sir? Your orders?”

“What? Oh yes, er…standby, sergeant.” Jacob switched off the console screen, causing the confused expression of the officer to disappear. Jacob paused for a moment.

“I expected you to enter with a little bit more…bravado, to tell you the truth.” Jacob laughed. “You can come out from behind that pillar, Alex. Bring your companions forward, as well, please.”

Alex emerged from the shadows of Jacob’s large office, closely followed by his friends. The group reached Jacob’s desk, and they stood behind Alex in a straight line facing the desk, each with a solemn expression on their faces. Jacob should have been intimidated, but he wasn’t.

“Mr. Lehns, sir, these are my associates Marle, Lucca, Crono, and Magus,” Alex said seriously as he introduced his friends.

“As you can imagine, I have many, many questions for the lot of you; shall we get started?” Jacob asked with a crooked smile.

Magus silently stepped forward. “There is no time for your unimportant self-enlightenment. Listen to what we have to say, and you may still have time to save yourself.”

“Was that a threat? Because I can have you recycled in—” Jacob started, his cigarette casting off small puffs of white smoke as his lips quivered in rage.

“Don’t take his words too seriously, sir. He is not threatening you; he is trying to save your life,” Alex quickly said.

Jacob sighed and slowly leaned back in his chair. “Talk to me, Raine; give me a good reason not to have you recycled right now.”

Alex softly exhaled. “Get comfortable sir; this isn’t good news.”

* * *

“…And you think that a story like that will excuse your behavior during the past few weeks? You were AWOL for ten days; you broke into a superior’s office; you assaulted a government facility and pilfered sensitive weaponry; and you have been keeping an illicit private residence in a civilian-reserved hotel. What makes you think that coming in here and lying to my face is going to improve your situation?” Jacob said seriously after Alex had finished outlining the past few days.

Everyone in the group snapped their heads towards the bald man in surprise. Alex could barely speak. “Sir…but…it’s all true…what I said…”

“Extraterrestrials? Subterranean rebels? Time-space teleportation? Mr. Raine, you speak of fantasies associated with children and madmen. Now, either you will tell me what has actually occurred over the past few days, or you and your…friends, here, will be recycled immediately. Your choice, officer,” Jacob said as he punched a few commands into the console on his desk.

Marle looked over at Alex with an angry expression, and Alex shrugged nervously. He didn’t know what to do.

Magus rolled his eyes. It was up to him to take charge, once again. The dark mage stepped forward, close to Jacob’s desk. He nonchalantly adjusted his gloves, and then slowly looked up at Jacob.

“Not only is everything that Alex has told you true, but it is information to be feared. You believe that the best way to handle the situation is by turning over your resources to us. With the help of your men, we are completely capable of handling the rebels,” Magus said softly as he stared into Jacob’s black eyes.

“Are you finished?” Jacob asked, grimly. Magus backed up, completely caught off-guard. “That’s right, that stupid hypnotizing crap doesn’t work on me. I’m just going to have your brains removed so I can divulge their secrets later. Right now, I want you all killed. Let me just—”

Magus didn’t exactly understand what had occurred, but he wasn’t about to let his mistake cost his friends’ lives. Magus quickly grasped Jacob’s head between his hands in one lightning-quick motion, causing Jacob’s tiny cigarette to fly out of his open mouth. Dark energy swirled around the pair as they remained fixed in a motionless deadlock. Without warning, Magus released Jacob’s bald head, causing it to fall forwards on his desk. The mage took a few steps back, dazed.

“He is fine; at least he should be, I only—” Magus began after recovering from the metaphysical ordeal.

“Magus, what have you done?” Alex asked worriedly.

“Don’t worry, son, there’s no…harm done.” Jacob lifted his head off the desk, and he began massaging his temples as he spoke. “I’ve never experienced anything like that before. That was quite a bit of information for me to absorb, Magus.”

Marle raised her eyebrows. She hadn’t expected the strange bald man to know Magus’ name already. She really wanted to know what one of those weird mind things actually entailed.

“Yes, but it seemed the only sensible thing to do,” Magus said. He had regained his composure and was now standing with his arms crossed.

“I agree; I was being quite the hardass. My apologies to you all. You have had to accomplish much to get to this office.” Jacob shook his head. “My God, it feels like I’ve been through the same nightmare. An amazing talent you have, Magus.”

“Exactly how much did he show you, sir?” Alex asked.

“Enough. Enough for me to believe you. Unfortunately, I can’t help you. Only the other Upper Wing members have the power to allocate soldiers for combat. I…I cannot. I will have to petition the Upper Wing.”

“That may be too late! The rebels will attack any time, now!” Crono said violently.

“I know. You are going to have to bear with me. I can keep the officers I already have out there on full alert, but I can’t amass them into an army until we are attacked. Semantics of the higher authorities, you see. My apologies. I will gather the other Upper Wing members now. You five, take the armor you find in the storage bays on the second floor and make your way to Hope Layer. An attack will begin there, I am sure.”

“How are you so sure?” Magus questioned.

“With Hope Layer conquered, it is mere child’s play for the rebels to take over Trade Layer while entrenching themselves against attacks from Law Layer. To attack Trade Layer or Law Layer first would be suicide, and a multiple attack tactic on all three Layers would be unadvisable due to their lack of troops. Yes, go to Hope Layer. Find their point of attack, and alert me via the radios in your armor. Then, we can retaliate. Now go!” Jacob seemed to grow in size as he spit the battle plans forth. Anyone could plainly see that he loved to play the part of a general. More surprising, however, was Jacob’s transformation from an enemy to a loyal ally.

“Sounds kinda like a crappy plan, doesn’t it? I mean, Hope Layer is huge!” Marle said.

“What?” Jacob seemed to snap out of a trance-like state. “No, it’s not a bad plan! Go scout ahead for me, or we’re going to be completely unprepared for the assault. Now leave!”

* * *

Alex stretched his arms. The familiar feel of his heavy police armor felt fantastic. He loved the way it fit him so well. He was extremely well protected, yet he had the same agility as if he was wearing only a T-shirt and light pants. He looked over at his companions. He watched as they each struggled to put on the armor provided to them by the storage bays. He smiled as he watched Marle pull her torso piece on over her head. The heavy metal armor seemed to accentuate her shapely body instead of hiding it, and Alex felt a stirring feeling inside his stomach. Ever since Noria had unlocked his emotions, Alex had felt only one thing—the burning desire to love the woman he had lost. But now that that love was gone, he was free to experience the other emotions available to him. He felt a strong attraction to his new friends, Marle and Lucca, now, and if it wasn’t for the presence of Magus and Crono, he knew he would be unable to restrain himself from acting on these unused feelings. He felt dizzy as he watched the two beautiful women dress themselves. Time seemed to stop completely as he stared complacently at his friends.

“Yo, Alex! Alex! Am I doing this right?”

Alex shook his head violently and turned toward Crono, who had his torso piece on backwards. Alex felt like laughing. He had laughed in the past, but he had never before been actually happy, courtesy to his genetic programming. He looked around him, surrounded by his friends. He was now truly happy. He laughed.

“Crono, no no no; here,” Alex chuckled as he lifted the torso plate above Crono’s head and brought it back down over his body. “There you go. Everyone ready?”

His friends all nodded solemnly. Magus grinned fiendishly. The mage had refused to equip himself with the heavy armor, except for the large blue arm and leg bracers. He looked different; stronger; and his presence inspired Alex and the others even more.

“Great. Look, if—when we run into trouble down there, I want you guys to have a fail-safe, just in case.” The four friends watched Alex as he reached into one of the smaller storage lockers in a far wall and pulled out an impressive array of energy weapons.

“Whoa, Al, just hold it, there. We totally don’t need those, we’re—” Crono started to explain.

“Just humor me, okay? Hold on to them, and they may just come in handy, later,” Alex said with a note of genuine concern.

No one made any move to object to Alex’s idea, and everyone took a dangerous-looking pistol from the collection Alex possessed in his arms. The friends holstered their new weapons in the small torso compartments provided by the police armor. Finally, the group began to make their way back toward the police docking bay.

After a short ride on a lift, and a long walk down another twisting corridor, the group approached the familiar hallway that was the docking bay. Alex once again pressed his thumb on a small black panel in the featureless wall. This time, a much larger door opened on the company’s right, further down the hall. Eight brilliant black and blue police bikes revealed themselves as the group approached the opened entrance.

“Wow! It’s been so long since I’ve seen something like this!” Crono exclaimed as he ran over and rubbed his palms over the smooth surface of one of the vehicles.

“Hmm, well, anyway, driving one of these is a cinch. Wait, everyone get on one.” Alex waited until all his friends had mounted one of the bikes, and then he got on one himself. “Alright, just put your hand over the globe in the center…yeah, the one right between your legs, like that. Okay, now just—I know this sounds stupid—just will the thing to work. Tell it with your mind that you want it to move.”

Almost immediately, five different shafts of light pierced the dark room and illuminated each of the companions as their vehicles hummed to life and began to hover above the ground. The vertical doors that had silently opened in front of each of them revealed the bright lights and dark buildings of the Law Layer.

“Amazing. You guys never cease to…anyway, just follow me!” Alex took his right hand off the now-glowing globe situated in between his legs and grabbed the vehicle’s armored handlebars. His bike shot out of the docking bay silently, leaving an almost nonexistent vapor trail in its wake.

It was only a matter of time before the entire group was travelling abreast in a semi-straight line towards the dark clouds far below the Law Center. Everyone refused to be phased by the ridiculous speed of their transportation, and focused on the urgency of the matter at hand. The ominous atmosphere of the Law Layer quickly flitted by and the group submerged into the dark clouds, only to spring forth a few seconds later into the sunny world of Hope Layer.

Marle smiled. This was fun. She glanced out of the corner of her eye to see Crono approaching fast on her right. She saw him flash a wide smile at her and shoot off downwards ahead of her, leaving a cloud of white vapor in her eyes. Marle’s face suddenly adopted a determined expression and she revved up her bike, using her thoughts to increase the already incredible speed of the vehicle.

Magus watched his former adversaries disappear into the blur of the green world miles below with a quick blast of white vapor. He suddenly felt a deep sense of foreboding. He bared his teeth. Why did his companions always have to act so foolishly?

Almost as if in response to his thoughts, Magus watched Alex out of the corner of his eye slam his fist into his bike’s dashboard and reluctantly fire up his vehicle in pursuit. He then looked over at Lucca, who shrugged and suddenly sped up after the others, as well. Magus saw he had no choice. He had just begun to enjoy the unique sensation of the abnormal mind link between this machine and his mind, and he felt hesitant to change the pleasant sensation in any way. However, his feeling of dread intensified, and he took off towards the ground.

Instead of experiencing a heightened adrenaline rush like he had expected, he felt the vehicle begin to connect with his mind even further as he accelerated. Even though he was plummeting toward the ground at a ludicrous speed, he felt more aware of his surroundings than ever before. He felt the presence of his companions far below him, and he could even anticipate his friends’ next moves.

This giddy sensation suddenly dissipated as he felt his companions’ descent come to an abrupt stop. Magus, realizing he had been travelling with his eyes closed, snapped his eyes open and abruptly cried out as he watched the green earth rush upwards to meet him. Magus threw his arms in front of his face and everything went black.

A few seconds passed.

“Hey, Mags, nice of you to join us. Have trouble landing?” a familiar voice said mockingly. Magus heard a few feminine giggles follow.

The mage suddenly became aware that he was still conscious. He realized his eyes were closed tightly, and he promptly opened them. He lowered his arms from in front of his face and looked around himself. His friends surrounded him, each mounted on a separate bike, smiling at him. They had landed in a large green expanse between two tall stone and glass towers. Birds chirped merrily and the pleasant humming of flying vehicles could be heard overhead.

“I thought…I was going to die…” Magus said weakly.

“What? Nah, that bike would never let you do that, no matter how fast you were going,” Alex chuckled. “Anyway, I was in the middle of reprimanding you two.”

Crono and Marle suddenly stopped smiling and looked down sheepishly.

“Stay with the group; I’m really worried about our enemy—I don’t want us to split up. Strength in numbers, you know?” Alex said. He didn’t seem mad, but more concerned for his friends’ lives. Lucca noticed an underlying tone of sadness in his words.

“Yeah, fine. No problem. Where to, Alex?” Marle quickly said.

“Great. Good.” Alex looked from side to side for a moment. “Let’s make our rounds above this street here; we can get a pretty good vantage point of most of the Layer if we patrol there.”

“That sounds good, but don’t you think we should split up, anyway? We could cover more of the city that way, right?” Crono said while watching a large black tanker fly high above them, creating a pleasant purple haze that lazily trailed behind it.

“Look, there are too few of us as it is; we can’t afford to break into smaller units. If there’s an attack, we’ll see it. Let’s go.” Before Crono could argue any further, Alex revved up his bike and shot off into the air again.

“He’s really worried about us,” Lucca suddenly said. “You can see it in his eyes. He’s afraid of losing us. That’s why he sacrificed himself earlier in the hotel lobby. He was trying to help us escape.”

“But why? We don’t even belong here…” Crono said with a furrowed brow.

“He has no one else,” Marle said out loud, even though she was speaking mostly to herself. “After losing Noria, we’re all he has.”

“Then we must make sure we don’t fail him. Let us go,” Magus said as he fired up his bike. He had regained his composure already.

“Yeah, we can catch up to him if we hurry—” Lucca began. Unfortunately, she was cut off by a deafening explosion. A bright red puff of smoke hung suspended in the air between two faraway marble towers. The friends stared at the smoke, and they watched a black object fall from the cloud, leaving a long trail of darker smoke as it tumbled toward the ground.

“Was that—Alex’s bike?” Marle said as she brought her hands to her mouth.

“It couldn’t have been,” Crono uttered softly. “How could that be possible?”

Magus strained his eyes as he stared at the dissolving cloud of smoke. “It was; that much I know.” Everyone gasped.

“No! How?” Lucca sputtered, nervously biting the crook of her index finger.

“I can see several figures below the red smoke. They have weapons, and they are firing at…that walkway between those two towers. There is a figure holding onto the edge of the walkway. It is Alex.”

The other friends barely heard Magus’ last words, for they had already sped off in the direction of the explosion. As they flew their bikes toward where they thought their friend was, they saw hundreds of explosions littering the face of the Hope Layer all around them. Black figures were suddenly scurrying along the green surface of the world, and exchanging in hurried battles with familiar blue-clad policemen. It was as if hundreds of black ants had sprung up out of the ground.

Despite the disturbing scene below, it was only a matter of seconds before everyone arrived at the causeway linking the two huge, gothic marble towers together; Magus still trailed far behind.

Alex was hanging on to the edge of the marble causeway meant to link the two towers on either side of him. His legs flailed helplessly in the air as he attempted to pull himself up using a small piece of the broken metal guardrail that was waving precariously in the wind.

At first, Marle wondered why Alex couldn’t pull himself up, and then she spotted the unbelievably large wounds that covered his back and shoulders; wounds that seemed to have been easily inflicted despite the heavy armor he adorned. What infuriated Marle all the more, however were the large pulses of green energy which were still raining into Alex’s weakening form. She quickly spotted three darkly clad figures on the causeway as well; two huge, slouching men looking over a portion Alex’s crumbling police bike, and one young woman yawning loudly as she nonchalantly fired her huge, organic rifle in the general direction of Alex.

The hairs on Marle’s arm suddenly quivered…quivered in anticipation? She felt something…she wanted to fight these people. Something besides anger was making her want to attack these people; test her skills against them. Was the symbiote that she had procured telling her that it wanted to see if it could defeat another of its own kind? She subdued the bloodlust in her heart, and focused on saving Alex.

As soon as Crono and Lucca approached the causeway, they had much less of a hard time deciding what to do. The two friends carefully halted their speeding vehicles above the causeway and deftly jumped down to the marble pavement, weapons in hand. Marle, after a short pause, followed.

“Simms! More cops! Handle ‘em, we’ve almost hacked into the bike dash!” One of the large men turned from his work and pointed at Crono and Lucca and Marle, who had just landed further down the causeway. Magus had appeared, and he was quietly floating above them, bearing a sinister countenance.

The young blonde woman was dressed in a black reconnaissance uniform, much like the one worn by the companions during their short stint with the rebels, except for the absence of any arm protection at all. Of course, this could not be considered a weakness, taking into account the fact that her upper arms looked like two enormous organic cannons.

“Four? That’s hardly fair!” She laughed maniacally as she began to fire large gusts of green fire at the companions.

“Marle, help Alex! Magus, Lucca: cover me!” Crono yelled furiously as he plunged toward the blonde woman, expertly dodging the green fire that seemed to completely liquefy the marble face on the outside of the other tower.

Marle growled and shook her head as she watched her friends fly headlong into battle; her battle. She quickly skipped over to Alex, grabbed his arm and pulled him onto the causeway. Blood smeared across the now-dulled marble as she moved him over onto his back. She checked his breathing, and finding him still alive, she quickly mumbled a powerful healing spell over his quivering body.

She opened her eyes, and saw that most of her friend’s wounds were healing over. Alex opened his eyes.

“Caught me…off guard…came out of…nowhere,” he stammered softly. “Did my…arm come off?”

Marle bared her teeth in revulsion. “No! Of course not! Why?”

“She kept shooting my arm…trying to knock it off so I’d…fall…” He was delirious. Marle quickly waved her right hand over his eyes, forcing him into a deep, revitalizing sleep.

She jumped up and turned toward her friends. She saw Crono and the blonde rebel lying unconscious at the edge of the marble causeway, and Lucca pinned down underneath one of the large, black-clad men. Magus was currently involved in a heated exchange between the other man. Green and black energy explosions caused flecks of marble to hit Marle in the face. She had had enough.

As if possessed, Marle leapt towards where Lucca was incapacitated. She gracefully and slowly pulled her arm back, and let it fly forward into Lucca’s attacker. She felt her stomach churn as a loud crunching sound filled the air. The large man howled in pain and tumbled backwards into the marble tower, at least ten yards away. Chunks of marble flew in all directions in response to his impact, and his screams went silent as every bone in his body shattered.

Marle suppressed her urge to be sick, and focused on the man fighting Magus. She swiveled around with an inhuman grace and sprung towards the rebel, and, unbeknownst to him, landed directly behind him. All Marle could see was Magus’ eyes open in surprise as she snapped the man’s neck in one quick, deliberate motion.

For one moment, everything was completely silent as Lucca and Magus stared at Marle’s heaving chest and bloodshot eyes. The princess stood over the body of Magus’ adversary, panting. Suddenly, the muffled sound of gunfire from far below broke the silence. The tension in the air seemed to dissipate, and Marle seemed to return to her normal self.

Magus floated to the ground and helped Crono get up, and Lucca ran over to Alex, with Marle following close behind.

“Oh God, oh God, is he dead? Why are his eyes closed? Is he dead? Oh God…” Lucca was hysterical.

“He’s fine, he’s fine; I just put him to sleep for a second. Wake him up,” Marle said calmly. Marle couldn’t tell if she had actually spoken. It seemed like her voice was so far away. There was a still buzzing in her ears, but it was starting to subside.

Lucca waved her hand over his eyes, and Alex snapped to attention, wide awake. Crono and Magus approached the fallen officer with worried expressions on their faces. Alex quickly sat up, wincing from the unimaginable pain.

“Are you alright? Is everyone okay?” He paused for a moment until his vision came into focus. “They’re attacking—everywhere, right? We’ve got to stop them.”

He stood up, despite the nonsensical protests from Lucca and Marle, and leaned over the guardrail.

“Alex, lie down, you’re still—” Magus started.

“We’re going to start there, at the central plaza. I want us to stay together; we should be able to defeat each group, one at a time. They’ve mostly entered a stalemate with the cops; they’re just shooting at each other from behind buildings.”

“Al, you’re pretty torn up; maybe we should go on ahead—” Crono began.

“Don’t patronize me, Crono. I won’t be caught off guard again. Ever.” Alex walked over to his bike and picked it up. It was damaged, but still functional. He revved it up, and looked expectantly toward his friends with his bloody eyebrows raised.

* * *

“Orders! Orders, Durst!” A well-built officer from behind a ragged sandbag barrier screamed. He was panicking, she could tell. She knew he didn’t really have a choice. It had only been a few moments before when his companions Dylan and McIntire fallen, and their bloody corpses were serving as the other half of his sandbag barrier. A normal man would have gone mad in the same situation. Hell, she couldn’t believe she hadn’t gone crazy, especially after the Commander had had his head blown off right beside her.

She fired a few more rounds in the general direction of her enemy. “Who are they?” she thought. The bright orange of her bullets slammed into the huge stone fountain that the enemy was using as cover. She watched crystal blue water flow from the two gaping holes she had created in the base of the enormous, tree-shaped fountain.

“Durst, you are the commanding officer! We need orders!” The other survivor in her squad was taking cover behind a large marble park bench on the other side of her. He was a good friend of hers; and she suddenly recalled some of the good times with him during training. The name ‘Streak’ was plainly printed on the front of his damp bandana. She had given him that nickname after he had failed his muscular enhancement training for the third time. Finally, the scientists, giving up on him, implanted a long vertical cybernetic strip along his spinal chord to get him up to snuff with the other police officers. A long scar had been left on his back, which he had been extremely sensitive about. Katherine treated his shame as something to be proud of, however, and convinced him that he was better than other officers due to his unusual augmentation, which he was. ‘Streak’ gained something he never had: his self confidence; and he and Kat had also become the best of friends.

Kat looked into his eager, dirt-smudged face. If he got shot…

“Okay, we’re going to have to rush them! If we are to make room for Company C, we have to remove this bottleneck! Anderson, ready the M507. Streak – cover us.” Kat reloaded her pistol and got into a crouching position behind the bench she had been using for cover.

“Kat: are you sure you don’t want me there, too?” Streak yelled as a huge ball of green energy struck the marble bench, causing stone to fly in all directions.

“On my mark!” she screamed, ignoring her friend.

“M507 charged and ready, commander,” Anderson said, his voice shaking slightly.

“Now!” she yelled as she vaulted over the bench and sidestepped the huge fountain, firing her weapon over and over again. She felt energy projectiles whiz past her ears as Streak fired at the dark shapes that revealed themselves from behind the fountain from time to time. She began to feel confident, and she stood up out of her low crouch, and continued to sidestep her way behind the fountain.

Kat cringed as she felt something rip through her abdomen. She stumbled a bit, but continued to fire as she ran. She heard a huge energy discharge from her right, and then an explosion. Kat snapped her head towards where Anderson should have been, firing the huge hand cannon he was equipped with. All she spotted was a smoking crater, dotted with a thick, red paste. What had happened? Had it backfired? Anderson didn’t have the experience to use such a powerful weapon; it had belonged to Dylan. She had made a grave mistake.

Her hesitation cost her dearly. A green projectile caught her in the right arm, and she spun around toward the ground, catching two more shots in her back. She lay on the ground, bleeding all over the green grass. She felt herself starting to die. She slowly forced herself to turn over, and she found herself staring straight at a group of three black-clad men and women. Two similar-looking men lay dead on the ground beside them. She had gotten much closer to defeating them than she had thought possible.

“I think there’s only one left, Ray; why don’t we rush him?” one woman said. She wore a black mask, completely hiding her face from view.

“We have to wait for the command; we’re just supposed to hold our position until we get word to move. Now don’t ask me again. Hey, is the little one dead, yet?” a wiry man with scraggy brown hair said.

“No, her eyes are still open, and I think she’s breathing. I’ll get her—” the woman said without emotion.

“NO! I mean, leave her. We’ll take her with us,” the wiry man said.

“Why? You can’t mean—no! I don’t believe you!” the woman said as she fired repeatedly towards where Streak was. The orange projectiles that had been flying overhead suddenly stopped. Kat’s stomach twisted.

“What? What? I just don’t think we should kill innocents—” the wiry man started.

“You can be a friggin’ pervert on your own time, you crazy SOB. We have orders.” Kat watched detachedly as the woman’s arm shifted and bulged, slowly forming a large cannon. Kat stared into the barrel of the organic rifle, and time seemed to stop as a green light began to peer out through its darkness. Kat knew that her life was over.

She felt nothing when the bloodthirsty female rebel screamed and fell dead on the ground. She wasn’t surprised; she felt that she was merely an unconcerned spectator. She wasn’t phased when a white-faced man with a bloody scythe stood in the place of her would-be executioner, and she almost yawned when a blonde girl snapped the necks of the other two rebels. It wasn’t until she spotted a tall, muscular police officer beside these strange people that she became surprised. Sounds and smells and tastes suddenly assaulted her senses as she came back to reality. Memories and worries and loyalties smacked her in the face as she refocused her mind.

She listened, entranced by the large man’s words. “Good. We don’t have time to waste; there are many more.

“Alex; this one’s alive! I’ll fix her up,” a tall purple-haired girl waved her hands over Kat’s eyes, causing blue sparks to dance across her closed eyelids.

“Wow, I think that’s Katherine Durst. Kat, is that you?” Kat opened her eyes again to find the kind face of her former partner smiling in front of her. Her episode of hopelessness has passed, and she found the ability to speak again.

“Alex, where the hell have you been…” she managed to say in a raspy voice. She wasn’t sure if the tears in her eyes were from seeing her old partner again, or from the salty blood that had dripped into her eyes from a wound on her forehead.

“Kat, I’m glad to see you again. I’m glad to see you’re alright. Right now, though, I’ve got orders to take these Black Rebels out. Get yourself to a medic; you can walk.” Alex said as he pulled Kat up off the ground. Surprisingly, much of her pain had dissipated.

“I…was told you were dead…they…partnered me up with…Grant, would you believe it?”


“Yeah…he’s been an idiot…but he’s gone, now…everyone is gone…”

“Get yourself to a medic; you’ll find the way to the east is clear. There’s a coupla bikes over there, too.”

“No chance, you crazy bastard,” Kat said playfully, much of the dryness of her voice disappearing. “I’m coming with, especially since the rest of my company is…gone.” She spoke her last words with a deep sorrow.

“I don’t think…ah, what the hell. You’re healed up about as good as me, and it’ll be like old times, right?” Alex suddenly grasped Kat’s shoulders and smiled at her.

“Let’s go…now!” Magus yelled at the pair. “We don’t have time; NO time!”

“Right. Move out; there’s another group to the west. Stick close to me, Kat,” Alex said.

The group moved like elite soldiers across the grass out of the fountain area. Alex took the lead, carrying two large laser pistols. His friends ran beside him in a line, and they each moved with a deliberate, determined pace.

Surprise and utter shock are words unfit to describe the expressions of the many Black Rebels that were slain in those few hours. Their mission had been to massacre, but, ironically, they were actually being forced to fight for their lives. The Rebels weren’t brave or courageous fighters, and, when faced with true opposition, panic often overtook them, giving yet another edge to the companions. Poor organization, leadership, and communication on the part of the Rebels made them simple targets for the expert hand-to-hand skills of Marle and Alex and Kat, and they were completely unprepared for the effectiveness of Crono’s and Magus’ flashing blades. The ridiculous amount of fire spewed forth from Lucca’s hands was more than enough to wipe up the remnants of opposition, and much of Hope Layer became blackened after her passing.

Although police officer casualties far outnumbered the casualties of the Black Rebels, it was a victory. The invading, far superior army had been stopped, and another day would come tomorrow.


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