You've Come A Long Way, Baby Chapter 19

By Imrahil

The trip through the Nexus Gate was short and quite smooth, compared with previous trips. The group merely left one place and appeared in the next. The Elders’ Hall now lay before them, in all its mysterious glory. The familiar shapes of the Elders’ podiums rose up on all sides of the group, and the rest of the room was bathed in pitch black.

“The Elders—they are gone?” Magus hissed through clenched teeth. The rest of the group was equally dismayed. The targets of their search were gone; disappeared without a trace. The men and women they had traveled to assassinate were completely absent from this place.

“Great; now we’re going to have to hunt the entire expanse of the underground for those dudes. Ah well, nothing’s ever easy,” Crono sheathed his sword and sighed deeply.

“True, young Chosen. Nothing is ever easy.” A deep, pulsating voice filled the empty hall, reverberating off the invisible walls of the strange room. On the right side of the group upon a tall podium was the dark shape of a bald man. The companions had failed to see him before. The man leaned forward into the hall’s dim light. The familiar grinning face of Poe appeared before the six friends.

Only the sound of Crono redrawing his weapon could be heard in the few seconds of silence that ensued Poe’s intimidating voice, followed by the echoing sound of nervous breathing. Without warning, the melodious voice broke through the thick veil of absolute quiet, and Poe continued.

“I see that not even the complete devastation of our armies can sate your appetites for destruction. You have returned here to slay the leaders of our people. Well, you are too late. They were not as cowardly as you might have thought; they did fight with their people. The few of them that survived the slaughter yesterday died only a few hours ago; victims of their symbiotes’ pride. I am the only one left, now.”

“But…we saw you die! The Elders fried you!” Crono yelled at the complacent black man.

“Fools. All of you. I am an Elder, as well. They cannot kill me, only stun my body for a small period of time. And that task takes all of their strength. You see, I was their leader, until my search for the Chosen discredited me in their eyes.” He sighed loudly. “It doesn’t matter now, though. I am in power once more. Yet my people are decimated. It will take years for me to rebuild.”

“You will not rebuild, nor survive the day, ignorant one. We have come to destroy the Elders; you are they.” Magus stared belligerently at Poe, pointing the edge of his scythe towards the top of the podium.

“The greater part of my people are gone, yes. But I have enough willing disciples left to provide genetic material for reconstruction. And as for you causing my death; well, the idea is laughable.

“You seem quite confident for a man with two .223 energy handguns trained on his forehead,” Alex said as he pointed his powerful weapons at the black man’s face. Two small red dots danced nervously on Poe’s smiling face.

“Such a small caliber—you should carry more deadly weapons with you. I’ve discovered the most powerful weapon of all is the human body—enhanced by technology of course. Since you six seem so intent on fighting me, why don’t we choose a more suitable fighting ground?” Poe smiled evilly at the group, and the scene behind him shifted into that of a large, well-lit warehouse. “Does this place seem familiar to you, Officer Raine?”

“This is where I arrested that plebian murderer…right?” Alex said softly as he spun from side to side, examining his environment.

“Yes…oh yes, and here he is, along with some other friends. Meet my most elite contingent of soldiers—currently my only soldiers.” Poe waved his hand to his right, where a large, very heavily armored being stood. “This is Winston Enhar, the man who you so mercifully allowed to live a few days ago in this warehouse. Of course, this is a different Enhar, but that is beside the point. No reason to confuse you before your execution. Anyway, to my left is the youngest soldier I have: one William “Noll” Rico. You may remember him as the little boy that led you to Poe’s Garage a few days ago.”

Marle and Lucca gasped. The boy was indeed changed. He was in the same large armor as Enhar, but he filled it better. They could see his skin pouring through the joints of the armor: a disgusting, greenish skin that could have belonged to a reptile or other such foul creature.

“And my finest warrior of all, Noria Valleho,” Poe grinned maliciously as he revealed Noria’s form, which was located behind the group upon a tall crate. She donned the same, enormous powered armor that the others wore, although hers was obviously modified to accentuate her female form.

“These are the ones who entered my home; they wear the same armor and have the same names. They are dangerous,” Magus grimaced as he spat forth his last few words. He twirled his scythe around his body in an aggressive pattern, preparing for an attack.

“I know not of what you speak, dark one. This armor was forged only a few hours ago. It is my greatest invention, and it will be your downfall. My loyal soldiers, dispose of this trash; leave enough for me to make a few genetic scrapings, however. Go, my children.”

As if suddenly snapped to attention, the three huge armored soldiers jumped down from their crates and began to engage the six confused companions in battle.

“Who are these freaks, Alex?” Kat yelled as the two groups of combatants eyed each other wearily.

“Two former friends, one murderous plebe. On guard—” The large police officer was cut off when a bolt of bright green energy ripped through his left shoulder plate, knocking him to the ground.

The companions turned around towards Poe. His arms were now large organic cannons. The black man shrugged. “You didn’t expect me to stay out of this little conflict, did you?” He immediately started firing at the other companions. The five friends still standing scattered across the floor. “Fortunately, the day of defeat hasn’t hindered my symbiotes’ lust for destruction!”

Crono dodged a few of Poe’s green blasts but was completely unprepared for the blow from the large armored man behind him. The pain phased him for a second, and he certainly wasn’t ready for the following blows in his lower back. His Moon Armor absorbed most of the pain, but the gauntlets of the armored man were electrified, causing Crono’s vision to go black after every punch. He twirled and felt his sword jump from his hand as he took every following blow in the abdomen. The pain was unbearable.

Magus and Lucca both flew toward the form of Poe, enraged at his contemptible shot at Alex’s back. Poe seemed surprised at the duo’s ability to fly for a moment, but he quickly regained his composure. He grinned widely, revealing his incredibly white teeth, and he lifted his huge arms high. He littered the air with bursts of deadly green fire, catching Lucca in the leg. The dark mage cringed as Lucca fell to the ground, but he forced himself to concentrate completely on disabling Poe. He planted his feet on the high crate where Poe was standing and swung his scythe in a great semicircle around him. Poe smiled, and he allowed his arms to change into two great organic scimitars. The two warriors crossed blades, causing great sparks to fall to the ground.

Time seemed to slow down as Poe and Magus spun around each other in a graceful dance; a blur of motion and dizzying colors. Every few moments, their blades would meet, producing a huge explosion of multicolored sparks. The elegant display did not last long, however. Magus deftly dodged a lethal thrust from one of Poe’s blades with a quick handspring off the crate, only to find Poe’s heavy boot lodged in his gut. Magus felt all the air leave him, and he winced at the crunching sound that issued forth from his ribs. The mage felt Poe’s other boot crash into the left side of his face, causing him to fly off the crate. The dirty warehouse floor rushed up to meet the mage’s broken body, forcing Magus’ vision go black.

Marle was similarly effected by Poe’s abject behavior, so she furiously turned on her two closest enemies, the armored boy and Noria. With all her strength, Marle jump-kicked Noria in the chest and spun around with her long leg extended, meeting the armored boy’s helmet with a loud crash. She couldn’t help but to recoil from the pain. Instead of cleaving through her opponents’ armor, her blows merely caused her enemies to stagger off-balance for a moment. A few electrified punches from Noria were enough to send Marle to the floor. The princess stared upwards, blurry-eyed, and saw the tall armored boy aim the barrel of a built-in weapon at her head.

“Noll! Please! I’m your friend!” Marle felt herself scream.

“Heh—the commander made sure I wouldn’t remember anything before my treatment. To me, you’re just trash.” The radio in the boy’s armor sputtered as he spoke. Noll’s voice was deeper and more gravelly than before, and it sent chills through Marle’s throbbing body. It was as if the boy had lost his soul. She bared her teeth defiantly and waited for death.

Three orange explosions appeared on Noll’s helmet, causing him to stumble backwards. Marle took this opportunity to swing her legs against the armored shins of the large armored boy. He fell backwards slowly, and finally he smashed against the concrete floor with an obtrusive clattering sound.

Marle completed a back handspring off the ground and landed on her feet. She spotted Kat held fast in the oversized gauntlets of Noria, who had the police officer by the neck in one hand and held her arms in the other. Kat was sputtering and coughing as she vainly used her legs to kick the lower torso plate of her assailant. Marle rushed toward the conflict, but found her efforts to be useless. Kat was able to point her large handgun upward into Noria’s abdomen, firing her weapon until Noria reeled backward and dropped her. Kat fell to the ground, coughing violently.

Marle rushed to the fallen police officer’s side. “Kat! Are you okay?”

“Yeah—just let me catch my breath.” She could barely speak through her choking fits. Her throat was bruised and bloodied. Marle quickly performed a healing spell, allowing the police officer to breathe once more.

Kat smiled at the princess. “Guess we’re even, right?”

“You’re the one that shot Noll, then?” Marle asked, finally understanding.

Kat nodded and jumped to her feet, dodging an electrified blow from the now fully-recovered Noria. Marle spun around with new confidence and began to block attacks from Noll, who had pulled himself off of the ground.

Alex felt blood slowly fill his mouth as he lay on the concrete floor of the warehouse. The shot in the back hadn’t been so bad; it had been the fall to the hard floor that had hurt the most. If his nanites hadn’t latched onto his front teeth quickly enough, he knew he would be missing several of them. Alex pushed himself to his feet and spun from side to side, dizzied by the ongoing action all around him.

Alex cried out as he witnessed Crono buckle over under a rain of electrified punches from one of the armored men. Alex dashed toward his friend in haste and allowed his own momentum to drive his kneecap into the left side of the armored man. Alex smiled when he heard his victim cry out in pain and fall on the concrete floor. The wrathful police officer pointed his two large handguns at the quickly recovering armored man and fired repeatedly. Bright orange flecks of energy flew in all directions as Alex hit his target incessantly. The armored man almost lost his footing again, but then began to walk into the firestorm, ignoring the ceaseless rain of energy projectiles aimed at his torso and head.

Alex grimaced. He couldn’t find a weak spot in his opponent’s armor; his weapons weren’t even scratching the surface of the hard gray slabs of metal that were fitted on every part of his enemy’s body. Alex reholstered his guns just in time to block a powerful punch directed at his head. Alex countered with a punch of his own, but his gauntlet shattered on the armored man’s torso, leaving a broken mass of blue metal hanging around Alex’s wrist. Alex felt the armored man kick him in the ribs, sending him backward. He tripped over the crouched form of Crono and landed on his back on the ground. The armored man didn’t hesitate for a moment. He grabbed Alex by the neck and picked him up so he was face to face with the police officer.

“How it feel, cop?” Alex could see the man’s eyes narrow into slits through the huge yellow eyepieces in his helmet. “You completely helpless at my hands! No relenting from me, no! No mercy from me!”

“You’re not as articulate as before, plebe. Did the cops take away the little bit of brain you possessed after I took you in?” Alex smiled pathetically; the color was drained from his face. “Now I know what Poe meant when he said you were…different than before.”

With a primal scream, the armored man pulled his fist back and smashed it into Alex’s face, sending the large police officer backward. Alex didn’t fall to the ground, however, but he soon collapsed after being punched and kicked several more times by his furious foe. The armored man picked the exhausted police officer off the ground once more.

A built-in gun neatly popped out from the side of the armored man’s gauntlet. The large man pointed it at Alex’s head. “Wonder how you going to regenerate your head when it blown off your shoulders. Bye, now—urk!”

Alex watched the edge of a sword rip through the armored man’s shoulder, causing him to release his grip on the police officer. Alex fell to his feet and didn’t hesitate for a second. He expertly somersaulted backward, removing his weapons from their cleverly concealed holsters. He landed on his feet and fired relentlessly at the chink in the man’s armor; the place where a fatigued Crono had thrust his sword in a desperate effort to save Alex.

Alex fired and fired again, draining his guns of their power. He threw them to the ground in one motion and lunged forward, crashing his good gauntlet into the armor’s weak spot. With a sound similar to a teakettle coming to a boil, a huge crack suddenly ran down the side of the man’s armor. Alex used his good fist to ruthlessly beat at the man’s torso. Crashing sounds echoed throughout the large warehouse as Alex beat and ripped away at the man’s previously impervious armor. It had only been a few seconds before most of the man’s armor had been torn away from his body, revealing the wretched little murderer that had dwelled inside all along.

“No! Master, come to my aid—” Alex quickly cut the man off short with one well-placed blow in the face. The now pathetic man crumpled into a heap against a few of the warehouse crates. Alex turned around, breathing fast and hard.

Lucca’s eyes snapped open as Magus fell to the ground beside her. Lucca turned her head and almost screamed. The dark mage was covered in his own blood, and his body was contorted beyond repair. Lucca cried out and hurled a huge gust of fire and energy toward the victorious form of Poe at the top of his crate tower. Poe merely somersaulted out of the way and landed on the ground beside the enraged girl. The long fall should have crippled the large black man, but he landed on the ground without any sign of pain, and he seemed as nimble as ever. In fact, he immediately swung his leg in a long crescent toward Lucca’s head. The girl ducked and swung her leg out to trip Poe, only to hit empty air. She bit her tongue sharply as something smacked the back of her head. She spun around. Poe was behind her! The black man merely smiled and laughed as Lucca felt blow after blow hit her ribs and stomach, until the salty taste of blood welled up in her throat. She fell to the ground, coughing.

“You didn’t expect me to ignore my ability to time-travel, did you? Look: I’m hitting you now, even though you can’t see it, but you don’t feel my punches until a few seconds later. Hard to understand, isn’t it? The best part, little one, is watching my fists beat you into the ground while I stand here doing nothing. I already did all the work a moment ago, and now I can reap the benefits. You were truly foolish to cross—”

“You gloat too much.”

Lucca suddenly cried out and let loose from her broken form a storm of dark red fire. The burning energy swirled around her, burning the form of Poe and his many fists which appeared out of nowhere around her. She listened to him scream and curse her name, but she knew he was dead. Her thoughts were confirmed when the charred skeleton of Poe collapsed on her arched back.

Marle laughed when she saw Alex tearing the armor off of the other armored man. So these sealed cans of crap weren’t so tough after all! Marle redoubled her furious attacks on Noll, who was simply holding his arms up in a defensive stance, quietly begging for mercy. Marle saw hairline fractures beginning to appear on the armored man’s arm bracers, and she let forth a burst of freezing ice. She heard his armor crack even further under her attacks, until small chunks of his frozen armor flew off and hit the ground. She continued hitting the cold slabs of metal until it had all cracked and fallen to the concrete floor. Before her was the shivering, cowering form of Noll, only he was larger, his muscles were overdeveloped, and his skin was a sickly green.

“Noll? Are you okay? Noll?” Marle suddenly felt pity for the boy and she was experiencing remorse for what she had done to him. He was frightened, confused. She had to help him.

“Don’t hurt me—don’t hurt—” He was quaking on his feet, holding himself tightly. Marle couldn’t stand to see him so frightened, and she put him to sleep. Perhaps they could help him later. Right now, Kat needed her help.

The female police officer was holding her own pretty well, actually. Unlike Alex, she was a demolitions expert, and the explosive rounds she had brought for her handgun were actually making holes in Noria’s armor. Noria was standing still in the center of the room, firing green gusts of energy at the rapidly moving form of Kat. Every few seconds, Kat would pause in the middle of her swift movements and fire at Noria, denting her armor and sometimes blowing off a few chunks. Kat was smiling.

Noria was losing the fight. Badly. It only took her a few seconds to realize that the day was lost. She looked to her right and spotted Lucca throwing Poe’s blackened skeleton to the ground. She looked to her left and saw Alex crash his heavy fist into Enhar’s face. And in front of her, a pathetic weakling with almost no armor at all was pummeling Noria to the point of unconsciousness.

Noria didn’t especially care if the Rebels were completely defeated at this point; that outcome seemed inevitable anyway. She just wanted to live.

Poe had quickly installed another time-space teleportation device in her brain as soon as he had rescued her from Alex’s hotel room. Poe seemed to have had a plan for her, and he had told her, “You will need it to live, beautiful one. You are my greatest genetic triumph; and if we truly fail, I want you to live on and acquire our world after you escape.”

Noria didn’t want to retreat. She had been genetically constructed by Poe many years ago only to seduce Alex Raine, but since then, she had tried her best to improve upon her original programming by learning basic martial arts and weapon skills. Her enhanced reading speeds and learning abilities made it easy for her to master concepts in seconds which took normal people years to learn. She had learned most of the earth’s history, as well, and taught herself advanced mathematics and sciences. She was not ready to lose herself to these ‘heroes’, for she had invested too much time into self-betterment. Yet she was too proud to simply retreat, even though her implant granted her the ability to teleport herself to any part of the world, at almost any time. Suddenly, she had an amazing idea. With a thought, Noria allowed time to stop for all those around her except for Enhar, whom she hoped was still alive.

“Enhar! Wake up! Get up, fool!” She yelled into his deaf ears. She shook his limp body harshly until his eyes opened and focused on her. “Enhar, I have an important mission for you. It’s from the Master!”

The man’s glazed eyes seemed to come to life at the sound of that last word. “Master? Mission for poor Enhar?”

“Yes, Enhar. The Master wants you to steal a special gun from the labs in the pretty Layer. He wants you to bring it back here and put it under that crate over there.” Noria pointed to the crate nearest Enhar’s left.

“Where Master? Why he not talk to Enhar himself?” the tired and bloodied man miserably implored.

“The Master is in trouble; if you don’t do this for him, he’ll be very hurt, and very mad at you, Enhar!” Noria was getting impatient.

“Enhar go, Enhar never upset Master!” The man pulled himself off the ground and started to run from the warehouse.

“Wait! Enhar…” Noria ran toward Poe’s charred skeleton and pulled a small circular device off of his blackened waste. Finding it still fully operational, she typed in a few commands and handed it to Enhar. “When you get the weapon, place it with this thing and press the button here once you put it under that crate there. Can you remember that? The Master is depending on you…”

“Enhar remember! Enhar never forget Master’s orders! Enhar go now!” The man shambled off toward the warehouse exit, but suddenly turned around, much to Noria’s displeasure.

“Enhar have one question for pretty one.” Enhar’s swollen lower lip discharged a stream of saliva as he stared back at Noria. “Why you not kill enemies of master when they stand still?”

“Get out of here, Enhar! Now!” The retarded but loyal man scuffled away. Noria wished killing Alex and his friends was that easy, but she knew she couldn’t even touch them when the timestream was slowed down like it currently was. She was like a ghost in their midst; her fists and her bullets would only pass through her enemies without harming them in the least. Noria quickly stopped pondering the possibilities of the timestream, and focused on the task at hand.

She concentrated laboriously for a moment and used her time travelling abilities to send Enhar a few days back in time, well before the war between the Rebels and the Layers. At the same time, she used her temporal powers to revert his brain back to its normal state so he could once more function like a normal human being. She smiled at her power. She could do anything. Hell, if she wanted, she could age her enemies’ brains until Alex and the others were completely senile. Or, she could simply cause their bodies to grow incredibly old until they couldn’t stand up any longer. Noria’s mind raced at the possibilities.

Unfortunately, the strain on Noria to deliver Enhar to another time and temporarily heal his mind proved to be too much for her. With a deafening yell, Noria cringed in pain as the world around her suddenly came to life and the chip in her brain dissolved. Her foes were alive once again.

She wasted no time. Noria jumped to her feet and flew headfirst to the ground towards the crate she had instructed Enhar to deposit a weapon. She reached her long, bruised arm under the crate and felt the cold floor, searching for the smooth feel of metal.

“She suddenly jumped on the floor, that’s all.” Noria gritted her teeth at Kat’s voice. She couldn’t believe that the fool Enhar couldn’t do one thing right. There was nothing underneath the crate.

“Get the hell up, Noria. It’s over.” Alex’s deep, commanding voice shook Noria to her core. She was going to die, now.

Noria pulled herself off the ground to face her enemies. “I’d prefer to stand up when you kill me.”

“No one’s going to kill you. We’re taking you back up to Law Layer, where you’ll be sentenced for your crimes,” Alex insisted.

“And then I’ll be executed, right? That is the way your system works, isn’t it?” Noria said indignantly. Alex stared at Noria’s feet silently.

“Hey, everyone…something’s…wrong…” Lucca, Alex, Noria, Marle, and Kat turned around to face the collapsed form of Noll. “My chest…it’s glowing.”

Noll pulled his tattered undershirt apart, and the group could see rotating green and red lights dancing under Noll’s discolored skin. “What does it mean?” Noll looked up at his former friends with fear in his small black eyes.

“Ah, Poe—I guess this is the time I was supposed to save myself—well, too late for that.” Noria jumped to the ground again, between the two crates behind her.

“A bomb—!” Kat yelled. But it was far too late for a warning. It seemed that Poe’s death had triggered a countdown sequence in Noll’s chest, and the countdown had just ended. Hard luck for Crono and the others; definitely hard luck for Noll.

With a blinding flash, liquid fire and smoke exploded out of Noll’s chest, covering the room in flame and sending people and crates and debris everywhere. The noise was deafening, and the warehouse windows burst outward in response. The unbelievable cacophony stopped, and soon after, several figures pulled themselves out of the scattered wreckage that, only moments before, had been hundreds of carefully stacked crates.

Noria was the first to emerge, her gauntlet-covered hands pushing metal bars and other debris off her body. It took her only a few moments to realize that her inability to move did not come from the rubble that was stacked on her body. Her powered armor had finally given out, for Noria could not hear her armor’s usual quiet humming, nor feel its pleasant vibrations.

Noria cursed loudly and manually removed herself from the thick encasement by pressing two large buttons inside her gauntlets. The bullet hole-riddled torso plate popped open, and Noria’s delicate form emerged.

After removing her uncomfortable headpiece Noria allowed her long, dark hair to cascade down her shoulders. She had been waiting hours to let her hair down. But she didn’t have time to enjoy the sensation. She still had time to escape. Or kill her enemies. Or both.

Noria looked down near her foot. On the ground, right in front of her, lay the weapon Enhar had sent to her from the past. That idiot must have put it under the wrong crate. Noll’s explosion had obviously uncovered it. The corners of Noria’s mouth twitched. She had all she needed.

Noria reached down and picked up the light pistol, noting the smooth metal of the handle. Curious, the gun had been loaded already, and it was warm, as if it had been used recently. Noria shrugged and perched herself on one of the larger, intact crates. All she had to do now was wait for one of her enemies’ heads to pop out of the rubble, and then—BLAM! Noria chuckled loudly. “Blam!” she yelled.

Noria knew they were all alive. The explosion had been that of a large stun grenade. Poe would have never risked accidentally killing her. She pointed her weapon at the mounds of wreckage that lined the floor. The balance of the weapon was extraordinary. It was quite light, almost weightless, yet the mere sight of it caused Noria to feel light-headed. There was a hint of true power about the pistol as she slowly twirled it on her index finger. She couldn’t wait to use it.

First, she’d fire a few shots into that police officer whore that had been shooting at her over and over. She’d put a few bullets in her head, and then turn around and mutilate the blonde, and then that purple-haired bitch that had killed Poe. Yeah. Then, in the end, she’d fill the three men with so many holes that they’d be unrecognizable as ever being human. Noria couldn’t wait.

She didn’t have to wait long. The dark head of Kat suddenly burst out of the ground. The exhausted woman coughed violently as she tried to pry herself out of the ground.

“Don’t bother!” Noria yelled with a malicious grin. Noria pulled back on the trigger and watched hundreds of bullets issue forth from her weapon and enter every inch of Kat’s body, completely ripping her apart.

Wow! This gun is great! Noria thought. One bullet equals a thousand! Enhar did great! Now to kill the others; Noria loved the sight of her enemies’ blood. She wanted to make them all bleed.

With a resounding crash, the door behind Noria flew open. Thousands of little dancing red lights aimed themselves at Noria’s surprised face. The dark-haired girl turned from side to side, finding herself surrounded by hundreds of blue-clad police officers. Some were aiming their weapons through the windows around her; the rest were arranged in the doorway behind her.

“Freeze! Drop your weapon! Now!”

Noria almost screamed. She looked down at herself and watched the dots of police lasers dance all over her scantily clad body. What could she do?

Noria let her weapon fall out of her hand and onto the ground. Almost immediately, five or six police men and women were on top of her, throwing her to the ground and handcuffing her. She closed her eyes tightly and waited for them to put her to sleep.

* * *

It was probably the first time the sun had ever shone in the Law Layer. Jacob Lehns had authorized the construction of a holo-projector to create an image of the sun, much like the one in Hope Layer, but strangely enough, almost immediately before the erection of the holo-projector, the true sun was able to pierce the thick poisonous clouds above the Layer. Its invigorating rays of light blinded the denizens of the Law Layer at first, but soon, men and women were relaxing on rooftops, soaking in the sunlight.

Some took it as a sign of the coming peace; others believed it a convenient coincidence. After all, it was only a few days before the clouds covered up the sun once more. But the old sun’s unexpected appearance seemed to change the attitudes of the Layer-dwellers. They were happy, now; almost sickeningly joyful. In only a few days, the combined efforts of the General Committee of Earth had provided the outline of a new, very democratic world. Genetic programming had been quickly outlawed, much to some of the old corrupt Law magistrates’ dismay, and every police man and woman was reprogrammed and awarded free will. The functions of the Layers remained the same, but the citizens of those Layers were given the choice of whether to stay at their old jobs, or receive training for another in a different Layer. Most didn’t take advantage of this new option, but it was the principle that mattered to them. All were finally equal.

As for the Darkscape, the General Committee decided to begin re-colonization of the surface of the earth. Small outposts would be built first, which would later develop into thriving communities. Large deposits of minerals could be found on the surface, along with many old technologies. Life in the Darkscape was expected to be very profitable indeed. Most police officers who had visited the Darkscape in the past few battles knew this to be a mistruth, however. They had seen the innumerable mutants and carnivorous creatures that called the Darkscape home. As for the denizens of the Darkscape, it was decided that they would be left alone until they reflected interest in joining the new Layer Empire. So far, however, peaceful overtures to the large cities in the Darkscape were still met with hostility.

As for the companions, well, they were treated as heroes upon arrival back to the Layers. That is, after the rescue team unearthed their unconscious bodies from underneath the rubble of the Hope Layer warehouse. Why Poe had chosen to stage his final battle behind the lines of his enemy’s army was a mystery. Anyway, the friends were revived and fully healed, and they were able to participate in the coming celebrations in Hope Layer.

It only took a few days for the profit-loving Trade Layer affiliates to recognize the obvious marketing possibilities of the companions’ images, and it was only a matter of time before Crono, Marle, Magus, and Lucca action figures were being sold in the new convenience stores on the Layers. Children, who had been forced to stay in educational facilities during the last few days, emerged to find new superheroes to emulate. Hero merchandise could be seen on every street corner; women changed their hair to look like Marle or Lucca; young boys clutched long, wooden swords as they ran about the streets, weaving between parade floats. It was a good time to be alive in the Layers.

As for Alex, he promptly retired from active duty. The loss of Kat had proved to be too much for him, and he had almost become a total recluse. If it hadn’t been for the constant support from Lucca and Marle and Crono, Alex wouldn’t have had the strength to continue living. Alex soon accepted his friends’ proposal to travel with them to Guardia.

And Noria? Well, inexplicably, she disappeared out of police custody on the way to the Law Layer. Some believed she had one more ‘gift from Poe’ up her sleeve. Other, more philosophically-minded people thought Noria had destroyed herself, a victim of her own bloodlust and hatred. The truth is, no one actually truly cared. Noria never appeared on earth again, and she became an object of children’s nightmares forever after.

Everything seemed to be working out quite well. Earth was in great shape for the future, and Magus’ enemies had been stopped from ever visiting his world. Hell, everything was just fantastic. There was just one problem. A small, barely noticeable nagging thought in the back of the companions’ minds. An insignificant detail that obviously hadn’t been that important in the first place…A question that had managed to elude the companions for days…what was it?


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