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K21 - I'm With You

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Jacinta Hansen · Alison Katsura · Eric Lysander · Miki Albraun · Mathieu Dalton · Laurence Valentine · Elder Duma · Li-Pau Nao

HQ Burial & Four Tet - Moth09:02

HQ Burial & Four Tet - Moth


I

Monday blues. A Change of Perspective.

It had been many days. Everything had changed, and yet, everything was still so much the same.

A boy lay perched on a balcony railing, bathed in a soothing dark blue glow that spilled up from the city far below him, contemplating in silence. The air was constant and cool as it muffled the noise that emanated from below. He had chosen this spot to get away from all the pressing issues and stresses of daily life, and it was often where he found himself veiled by a painful and confusing daydream of past memories, its multitude of events stitched together like a tapestry. He observed the thousands of people shuffling about their daily routines below him. With their differences cast aside, each person was the same. Each had their own pain and grudges, each were bound to a ubiquitous oppression that their country enforced upon them like chains. He wanted to end this vicious cycle that plagued everyone, but the mere thought of were to start… frightened him.

Underneath it all, he was a simple boy, burdened by a momentous duty that was impossible for him to even consider. A child constantly bound to live in the shadow of his father, Kenneth Lysander, a man who was in all aspects more capable than himself, and even he fell victim to this incurable pandemic of hatred that was so unimaginably dominant in this world.

In all the years this "simple boy" had stood in his place, staring at a door of opportunity that lay wide open in front of him, not a whisper of will shone within him to conquer this fear.

Hope itself however, was long ago something that he used to swear by. It was a passion to achieve that bubbled up within him as he grew up, but it vanished along with the same love and encouragement that caused it. Now, his life was little more than a great empty ruin of past ambition, plastered only with the memories of pain, abandonment and a feeling of complete worthlessness. The future did not seem any more welcoming than the past.

But, despite this constant weight on everyday life, he has still dragged himself along the events of life under a false guise as if something in this unhappy chain of events actually meant something to him. He lived wearing a mask, a façade of what people expected him to be, and as such, he's had to bear the pain of his emotions slowly decaying away in silence.

In his mind he was beyond help. He was convinced that It was impossible. That, in a world full of hate, the dignities that lied within love and selflessness had all been violated and crushed beneath the advancement of time. Nobody in their right mind would put aside their own pain to help the next person in such a world he lived in. The darker path was always so much more tantalising. He knew that if he wished, he could abuse his powers and use them to commit horrendous deeds.

After all, a peaceful change was a thing that was utterly improbable. His feelings would never abate, at least not while he remained alive. It was often at the very end of his trails of thought that he found himself coming to the conclusion that there would be no such thing as this pain once he was gone. In a wickedly twisted sense, death seemed to be the only resemblance of a good feeling that still existed within him.

Within that very point, also lied a second reasoning for his choice of this elevated retreat: escape was merely a footstep away…

A voice broke his train of thought from behind him, a feminine, stern and militaristic tone. "Sheesh, don't ask permission for leave or anything. What the hell are you doing up here Eric!?"

That very tone, so pushy and dominating. It annoyed him. It was the voice of Alison Katsura, his superior officer and assigned trainer. Eric's annoyance of her almost laughable tactical miscalculations a mere two months ago was still fresh within his mind.

"Trying to get away from people like you." He replied coldly, even refusing to make any form of eye contact with her.

"What was that?" She spat, expecting him to immediately apologise for such a comment. She strode over to him, looming above with hands on her hips. Eric slowly stood up to be on her level as their glances met, a seething hate held itself within his eyes, hiding lazily.

She sighed. It was clear to her that he was tightly wound up again. Tying to calm the situation down with a different approach, she reassuringly placed her hand on his right shoulder, and said "Look…"

Eric smirked, and immediately grabbed her wrist with his left hand, hastily forcing his body weight forward into the empty space on her right with a violent slide forward as her hand splayed outward, forcing his right arm against her elbow as she twisted painfully into a locked grip, and she squeaked slightly.

"For fuck's sake Eric..." She cussed, clearing her throat. She forced her body weight back angrily, loosening his grip and freeing her back leg just enough to lunge it forward, exasperated, with a side piercing kick into his stomach. Eric broke the grip with a grunt and fell back, hitting the ground behind him painfully.

Alison walked over to where he lay, straightening up the clean-cut creases of her uniform. "Get up." She spoke bitterly. Eric shifted his body weight onto his arms as he lifted his body up, stepping up onto his knees. He stared at the ground.

She grabbed his collar and lifted him off the ground, clenching his throat. looking at his features with contempt. "I didn't come here for a bloody bitch session kiddo. We need you back at the block." She groaned.

Eric refused to look up. He just smiled silently as his arm started to rapidly chill, freezing at the point where Alison was holding on to him. She suddenly let go as the subzero temperatures stung her hand.

"Ow!" She exclaimed, "you little bastard!"

"Once again the fantastic tactical genius of Miss Katsura is displayed in its finest form," he snapped with a chill in his voice. He swayed, arrogantly, so full of himself.

Out of thin air, the hand of Alison's that had been damaged by the Ice Elemental became engulfed in flame, cancelling out the damage effortlessly.

"Eric! Enough of this! You stop this NOW!" Alison commanded, annoyed at his disobedient behaviour.

Eric, a smug smile firmly planted on his face, raised his left arm and pointed his palm again at her wounded hand, but his perception was a fraction too slow. Alison threw herself at him ,knocking his arm out of the way with a defensive crescent kick. The rest of his body followed, and once again his face was against the ground.

"Get up and walk. Now." She exclaimed, as the sound of metal handcuffs clicked around his wrists.

"This is what It's been reduced to. It's pathetic… Eric. It really is." She choked, utterly disappointed in him.

She had never realised her duty in being a fit legal guardian for him would come to this. Gone was the time where there was room for verbal reasoning. There was only black and white now, and she was hard up against her last resort: pure physical discipline.

Eric struggled up sorely, jerked upwards by the metal rings that bound his hands, and began to walk with Alison trailing watchfully behind him. She still felt the need to yell at him again, or perhaps simply cry instead. She sighed, as she bottled up these emotions once again.

Such a familiar feeling to her.

II

"Rather fascinating, actually." came the placid feminine voice of Miki Albraun, as she turned away from a pixelated greyscale image that encapsulated the main projection screen, barely straying away from a rather emotionless monotone. "There hasn't been an official statement released yet, but the truth does remain, the so called beloved Elder Khoury has been assassinated." She resumed her place on her chair, softly resting her chin on her hands. Often the difference between sleepiness and deep contemplation within her was hard to define. "When did you receive this?" Laurence Valentine replied inquisitively with clasped hands against the large illuminated table that lied in the centre of the room. Jacinta was on the right end of its glossy surface, sipping silently out of a mug, as Mathieu Dalton sat on Laurence's left, leaning back with crossed legs and analysing data on a tablet that flickered with a blue luminance in his hands.

"We received the image around fifty minutes ago from one of our now active sleeper agents within the sanctuary." Spoke Mathieu in his distinct dark, velvety voice. "There are a whole host of suspects, though this kind of work is far too specific and specialised to be a typical run-of-the-mill job."

The image on the screen depicted a fuzzy image of the robed body of an aged man, as frothing blood seeped out his eviscerated corpse.

"Acid rounds… an unusual choice of murder no doubt." Observed Laurence, slightly bewildered at the peculiar choice of weapon used in killing him.

Mathieu added a quick analysis, saying,

"A clear sign of capitalist pseudo-aristocracy. The murderer evidently has more arrogance than care when it comes to leaving clean trails."

The large plasteel door from behind them slid open with a hiss of hydraulics, as Alison and her estranged companion entered the room. Eric looked hateful and bitter. He too was chained by something, bound to this inescapable duty, sharing this fate with the so many others who populated the surface. He despised the very thought of it. The moody air around Alison vanished as she saw the image on the screen, eyes widening with surprise and deep intrigue.

"It's nice to see that rebellious workmate of ours checking in." Joked Mathieu, turning his attention towards Eric with a smirk. The light faded slightly from his eyes as he noticed Alison holding her wrist, massaging out a slight trauma that must have occurred to it earlier. It was only recently that he taught Eric the 2nd kup level defence exercises.

Eric refused to reply.

"You salute the rank, not the man, Eric.

"Sorry, sir…" He murmured in a moderately audible tone. He stood to attention, edge of his hand angled against the side of his head, and the other stiffly at his side.

"Discipline is Important. You've let to fully understand that. At ease." Spoke Mathieu, swivelling around as he readjusted his carbon-black framed glasses.

Looking around, Eric noticed Jacinta sitting silently in the corner of the room. "That mug…" He thought, a quivering worry popped up within him. "That belonged to... Mum..." He quickly avoided staring at her for too long in case she noticed, there was more than enough people within this place that had the wrong idea of what he was like underneath. He felt almost sick, he didn't like people touching his things. Hadn't they violated enough already of what little hope remained within him?

If only she… If only anybody within here had any scrap of brain cell left within them capable of realising what his mother meant to him. That mug was among the sparsely few things that was left of hers.

"We'll need to act quickly before panic settles in." Continued Mathieu, immediately detracting attention back on to what was important.

Alison then provided her opinion after some silent thought. "We should take advantage of the lack of power, stand in his place, and muster up the nation ourselves."

"Bad idea." Replied Mathieu. "If we made a public presence we'd be playing right into our enemy's hands."

"Mm… It'd give them a believable excuse to wipe us out. For example, wouldn't the mere thought of a secretive organisation of so-called "terrorists" having access to such knowledge before it gets into the hands of the media seem frightening? Even if some do believe we're out for a noble cause, nobody in their right mind would support Guardians when their governments are looking right over their shoulders." Added Miki.

"We must always act as a tertiary party no matter what." Continued Mathieu.

"So we just sit on the bench for this thing, again?" Assumed Laurence. There was a tone of annoyance in his voice.

"Welcome to politics, Laurence." Replied Mathieu. Making a personal note of Laurence's eagerness, he continued,

"For one thing, we're a very weak fighting force on worldly terms, the bulk of our power comes through manipulating power shifts to our advantage."

"In that case, there's always the idea of a "puppet power" approach." Stated Alison, crossing her arms as she leant in the doorway.

"Well, that could work. However it is too risky. The parliament are already in a similar kind of situation. The public would get suspicious. Also, he could come to be corrupt and we'd be blamed. He'd no doubt consider about letting the population know of our existence, even exploiting it to gain political support…" Replied Mathieu.

"True." sighed Alison, ending with a lowered tone.

"Then there's that whole Calypso Industries affair." Sighed Miki, twirling a lock of hair in her finger as she failed to think of anything but dead-end plans herself. "Even if we were to miraculously find out a way to muster up the people they'd crush us without a second thought."

"Financially they are a nothing but a husk of what they used to be, a toothless lion too old for its game. But against us and our dwindling funds it's a different story. Not to mention its miraculous ability to stay alive as this Sector spirals down into a recession." Added Mathieu with a slightly discouraged laugh.

"Talk about being stuck in a rut…" Complained Alison.

"Why don't we take Calypso out of the equation then?" Eric cut in, breaking his silence.

Alison forced herself to not groan. Personal grudge ruins the efficiency of plans, but she knew exactly what he was up to.

"We'll definitely win the support of the people without having to rely on assuming the position governmental power. We would only need to reveal ourselves as typical 'political activists'."

The room fell silent. Everyone was surprised on Eric's sudden interest in his career.

"Maybe he's trying to cover up his insubordination with sugary words…" Thought Mathieu. "Nevertheless…"

"The boy has a point. Seems like somebody here actually does want to get off their backs for once. If anything, it would be the most likely choice to result in a successful mission." Speaking amusedly. "But again, we ARE outnumbered. Unless.."

"That doesn't automatically ensure loss. For example the ancient general Alexander III of Macedon was outnumbered every time he fought against neighbouring empires. He rose as victor every time." Relayed Miki purely from general knowledge.

"Yes, Intelligence most certainly beats the numbers when it comes down to it. Hence, we will need to plan everything - meticulously." Replied Mathieu.

"Ironically, the Persian Empire he conquered was a husk of a superpower drained from the tax levies of their kings. Much like Calypso is today." Continued Miki. She enjoyed history, and it was often that she would relate real-life examples to figments of the past.

Laurence added an opinion,

"Even then, it would still be tactically advantageous to muster up some form of external support. Perhaps a mercenary company, or engineering a riot… even going as far as the apparently absurd idea of recruiting."

"Unfortunately, the political atmosphere is too unstable for upfront recruiting. This will have to be our only option, no matter how unreliable it may prove to be." Mathieu replied.

Eric decided to cut in again, hoping his contribution would detract Alison, as well as anyone else from any thoughts of bringing up what happened earlier. He was in no mood for punishment. Alison herself was far too engulfed in bitterness to make any more inclusions to the topic. "Bloody Eric," she thought "That kid tries to wriggle himself out of every goddamn situation…"

"Well, we have time don't we? If we spend out efforts purely on sabotaging Calypso we can also secure their resources. Sure it's not much… but, it's a starting point." Stated Eric.

"Haha, indeed Eric. Building the tallest tower begins with the placement of a single stone." Recalled Mathieu in an interestingly poetic fashion that he held a liking for. "Once we gain control of their infrastructure and what financial assets they have left, we will have no doubt eclipsed the government's in their power."

"Strategically, it looks beneficial enough. Well, seems like a good idea, clever thinking there, Eric." Laurence coyly spoke, a small grin on his face, "If we remove Calypso from the equation there'd merely be the parliament in power, and us with bonus resources."

"Doing so will plunge ourselves into a tight situation no doubt. But it will another small push towards gradual world peace." Added Miki. She smiled ever so slightly.

"Id say… mhm... the mission has a seventy percent chance of success, so I'm certain we'll manage. Very well then, we'll think about it. Until then, resume normal duty." Spoke Mathieu.

Laurence and Miki got up in their own time, leaving the room. Jacinta was the last of the three to leave. Upon her exit, Mathieu quickly finished up organising the data he was recording on his slate, and he swivelled around in his chair, angling a finger towards Eric. He gestured towards himself.

"Eric. Alison. I'd like to speak to you two. Eric... in particular."

Eric's stomach sunk slightly, Mathieu's skill in logic was truly beyond measure. As per their requirements as subordinates, orders were orders, and they immediately stepped up in front of him. Alison kept her arms crossed, however Eric was unusually attentive.

Mathieu glanced as Alison's arm. There were several faint red spots upon her hand, suggesting damage from cold. There was clearly enough evidence for a well-stood inquiry. He glanced at Alison and said,

"Another incident?" Speaking under his breath. She simply nodded, removing eye contact from him afterward, biting her lower lip slightly. She didn't fully feel like punishing him. He had a very good reason behind his destructive behaviour, but It was the right thing to do.

"Eric. I see you're putting your newly acquired red belt defence movements to use."

Eric groaned from under his breath. "Caught."

"What is the third tenant of he student's oath, Eric?" He asked sternly.

"Screw the tenants," he mumbled. He noticed anger slowly melt into Mathieu's eyes, and was overcame with guilt "Uh I mean… it's, I." Eric continued hastily "I will never misuse Taekwondo..."

He felt like an idiot. They were treating him like a whingey little kid. What's worse, the cheesiness of this martial arts bullshit was getting on his nerves.

"It is. You are to show courtesy, integrity, self control and respect. I've taught you these countless times. You still haven't learned this. Have you?" He sighed, as he stood up, taking off his glasses with both hands and slipping them into his shirt pocket.

"I'll have your leisure privileges revoked for a week as punishment." He continued, sounding a touch angered.

Alison's eyes widened. She actually felt better now, knowing that Mathieu was on her side.

"I'll also put you on duty the entire week as well. Full time. There will be no breaks aside from sleeping."

Eric just stood in complete silence, staring blankly at the wall at the other end of the room, fighting back a tide of more bitter anguish. It seemed as if Alison had deliberately cornered him in front of Mathieu like this. Now he couldn't even turn to Laurence to bail him out.

"You'll be on duty on Jacinta's ward, which would be useful. She still needs some treatment due to the particularly harmful effects of her outburst.

"Jacinta?" Mumbled Eric. Memories of the time he saved her in those months past flashed through his mind. He sighed.

Adding a less aggressive light to the conversation, Mathieu continued "Stop complaining Lysander. You don't know how well you've got things going your way."

"Define well. Hah, It's bloody hard… being a Guardian." laughing nervously in an attempt to free his guilt a little.

"Then define 'Hard'," Mathieu continued with a slight smile. "In my opinion, hard is being the only experienced guardian on the planet. Then having to fill the places of the five others... whilst training your only surviving associates." placing his hand on Eric's shoulder gruffly.

"We're living in an eventful world Eric. There's absolutely no time to be spent goofing off. Channel your bitterness of this world to work harder. It is not at all a wrong thing to do."

Alison laughed to herself slightly. "That is very true." That same piece of advice was given to her years ago by the last Commander of Ghost_K. There'd been much within her life that she had been bitter about, a feeling that has remained very much the same unto this present day. But working hard for so long gave her a feeling of courage and perseverance like she's never had.

"Very well then. You both may resume duty." Spoke Mathieu, and he was off.

Eric was about to leave, turning away instantly in the pursuit of being alone once again, before a hand grabbed his shoulder, hauling him back.

Alison said one thing, and one word only before letting him go, without a single hint of eye contact.

"Don't let the bitterness consume you Eric. Please don't let your hate control you. Please. Just… just try for me. Is it really that hard to ask?"

She then pushed him away, before leaving the room without any further contact.

"But… bitterness is something that can so easily consume a person. Dad, this Is right… isn't it..?" Eric's thoughts trailed off as he began to slowly walk down the north-eastern corridor towards the medical sector.

One thing slipped into his mind into the very last moment. It wasn't until much later that Eric realised this.

Alison was on the brink of tears.

III

Midday. The clock clicked to twelve with an elaborate chime, as the congregation of hope-starved and desperate citizens crowded around the base of the Sanctuary's gargantuan silver tower complex dozens of metres below. A proud, aged man stood in the centre of the room, slipping on his ceremonial crimson robes in preparation for the immediate event. The high ranking associates beside him were instructed to leave on the word "Ensure the body is disposed of in the traditional manner. Integrity is essential if we must gain power through the hearts of the masses." The balcony doors slid outward on the sign of his presence, as the man strode out purposefully, the chromed sceptre of rule clasped firmly in his supercilious hands.

Elder Duma smirked to himself ever so slightly, before resuming practised noble features once he was in range of the cameras. The crowd had already began to roar with the mere sight of a lesser elder holding the staff of their beloved ruler. The man swiftly held out both his arms, filled with charisma. His robes fluttered heavily in the breeze as he proclaimed boldly, "Citizens of the Democratic Republic of Upper Africa!"

He elegantly composed himself, filled with an air of sadness that he acted so gracefully. He held his collar tightly, stealing for himself every eye of the crowd as he glanced away from them, winning their hearts with the false promise of shared pain and empathy, and continued "It is with deep sorrow that I must inform you… of the heartless assassination of our dearly beloved, Elder Khoury!"

A tide of uproar exploded through the crowd, as every man and woman were consumed with mixed emotions of fear and confusion. They held onto every word of their elder in impatient anticipation, and security could barely contain the extents of its marked barriers. Duma savoured the chaos like a sweet sensation dripping off the edge of his tongue. How he enjoyed this exercise of raw power.

Amongst the throes of the desperate crowd, a single man remained still, smiling in an amused observation. He was slightly unshaven, with long grey flowing hair, holding a briefcase with the stylised image of a hawk stencilled into its cover, features obscured by dark sunglasses and black fedora. His purpose of presence was a mystery to all that surrounded him.

He spoke to himself quietly, observing the events that encircled him like the shuffling and playing out of a deck of cards.

"Throw the tiniest thread of hope into a pit of despair…"

"But do not fear, my fellow citizens! Chaos will not reign supreme! It has been long overdue for Khoury's efforts to this glorious nation to be repaid! With my deepest gratitude, I myself have assumed his place as primary elder!"

The crowd burst into hopeful cheers and screams, leeching on the good tidings of their elder like it was the very last scrap of life within their reach.

And watch the countless desperate bow before you." Continued the stranger, even allowing himself a slight chuckle.

Duma paused, as he changed gears into a more reassuring tone. "Trust in me, and soon all of your concerns, will be laid to rest!" a tone of compassion ever present in his carefully constructed words. He at last concluded his brilliant speech with the final words of reassurance, sealing the loyalty of the masses permanently to his rule. "Rejoice! A future of peace and prosperity will be ensured! It's my solemn promise as your elected leader."

The mysterious suited stranger within the crowd had all the information he needed. With that, he readjusted his glasses, and left the premises without so much as the faint clatter of his polished shoes.

IV

Jacinta was pulled out of a barely conscious sickness to the sound of a door sliding open. She was still struck with a dreamlike haze that she had been drifting in and out of constantly, and she hadn't the slightest clue as to why this was happening to her. In her most conscious times, the only thing she could feel was a barely contained terror, and an indescribable feeling that her life was, somehow, slowly draining away. She heard a sigh from the other end of the room, and she opened her eyes, but couldn't focus on him. It sounded like that boy she heard earlier.

Eric stood there quietly, unsure of what to say. Memories of her bursting into tears only eighteen days ago flickered through his memory, and he felt reluctant to say anything. He noticed his hand had begun to rub up against his left elbow nervously.

"If I just… If I make a good first impression… then at least things wouldn't get any worse" He contemplated. He didn’t like being around strangers, they always seemed hostile and selfish. Kindness was the last thing you had to expect with anybody you didn't know. However, something was different about her.

He slowly walked over to where she lay, and sat on the lonely grey plastic chair that was accompanying her bed. "Duty on wards" was a difficult concept to define, such a duty was entirely dependent on the needs and condition of the patients. However, Jacinta did not seem to actually need any kind of attention. He shot a glace at Jacinta's heart rate monitor, and instantly realised that something was wrong.

- 41Æu below norm.

Her elemental stability was plummeting. Values below average were like a silent poison to any elemental.

"C..christ..."

Eric shot up quickly from out of his chair, cursing hastily under his breath, lunging himself over to the other edge of the her ward as he ripped open the draws, looking for a neutraliser injector frantically. Upon finding one in the lower draw, the snatched it out and readied it.

" Expiry date; fine. I'm sure it's not boiling or anything so screw the recommended usage temperature."

The injector was of an odd shape. It was comprised of two glassy cylinders arranged at opposite ends of one another, meeting at a perpendicular central shaft which held the needle and activation button on it's other end. It was as designed the rest in the palm of the holder.

He cast aside its box aside with a reckless throw, sliding it with a forceful precision into the plastic socket temporarily attached to the side of her neck, then forcing down the button. The injector hissed and bubbled, and the blue liquid within the twin glassy vials vacuumed out hungrily.

"Nghh!" Jacinta sputtered, with a cringe, as she writhed upwards. A mysterious tingling sensation rocketed through her body, and within seconds, her perception slowly returned.

He pulled out the injector and threw it on the ground. It shattered, exploding with its hundreds of tiny fragments across the entire floor.

Eric found himself leaning right over her limp body, arms pressed into each side of the bed. His heart felt like it was in his throat, as he choked helplessly on this recurrent raw emotion that had been building for far too long. He exhaled, as the element of panic continually remained within his voice.

"What the fuck is with the condition of this place!! Everything is falling apart!" He strained from under his breath, enraged, struggling to keep inaudible in order to not wake his patient.

This place never failed to make him sick. Here he was, a supposed "good" doer of the world, when the very world around him was crumbling helplessly. It was as if the very fabric of existence itself had betrayed him. From a dark and secluded place that coiled itself up in the inside of his skull, It seemed like killing this frail, vulnerable Jacinta then and now would have been the best thing for her.

"How can anybody bear living though such torment. Good deeds are so meaningless!" he cursed. His father continually flashed through his head like a slow, ceaseless shutter that blinded him with its anguish.

A beep sounded, pulling him violently out of his thoughts. He focussed his attention towards the heart rate monitor on his right, and the anger within him weakened and died away. The monitor had increased to five points above stability.

He slouched back down in the chair heavily and buried his head in his hands, letting off a sigh as his adrenalin cooled down.

"It's okay… It's okay. It worked. She's okay." he repeated to himself. He was so used to being helpless in the way of preventing people's deaths that what had just occurred to him felt far too corporeal and false to feel right.

There was a long silence, and in time an awkward feeling settled down upon him.

Now he was unsure whether or not she was actually listening to the entire thing. On top of this, he realised he had never given out compassion so freely before, let alone have somebody so easily step into his personal bubble. Looking after a stranger was entirely against of what constituted him a person.

But this feeling wasn't unpleasant. A random act of compassion... felt absolutely nothing close to what he was expecting.

He remained in his chair, letting himself simply exist alongside this state of mind instead of running away angrily, feeling like a whelp.

"What on earth; why do I feel like this?!" He pondered. With every thought this weirdness simply wound tightly around, remaining alive as it danced upon his emotions.

Jacinta coughed, catching Eric's attention. He lifted his head up exhaustively and glanced at her as she opened her eyes tentatively. She blinked as the ceiling slowly drew into focus, and turned her head to glance at him. Their eyes met.

They were a deep, distant blue. Something so fragile and wounded seemed to lie within them. It was indescribable. It was an air… a kind of feeling that he was simultaneously struck with. It became too much to look at any longer, and In the heat of the moment he simply looked away.

She looked so broken. It was a nauseatingly familiar feeling of his.

A silence fell over the room that lasted several minutes.

"Thank you." murmured Jacinta, puncturing the bubble of miscommunication as she cleared her throat.

"Mm?" exhaled Eric, surprised to be met with gratitude.

"I said thank you." In a clearer tone.

"Mhhm... Don’t mention it." He mumbled.

Another silence. Eric found himself continually thinking about cutting in with reasoning as to why he was in her personal space. Again.

"I was so frightened." continued Jacinta, with voice emanating as a soft and deathly whisper.

It was evident that she was scared and nervous to the point where she was barely able to retain control. The pieces of the puzzle fell together within Eric's mind as the situation began to make sense to him.

Jacinta had just endured being suddenly thrown head first into a duty she wasn't prepared for. Being cruelly chained to all this discipline, to these towering expectations and the unimaginably high threat of death on top of it all. It was enough to break anyone.

"What… what's happening to me…" She continued. There was a distinct tone of sadness.

"Just don't think about it." He relayed, noticing he came off as a little too cold.

"Mhm..." she came ruefully.

Jacinta seemed so much like him. She seemed to be filled with such great pain, and he was already growing to loath it. He wanted to make it go away. Amongst this newly hatched desire rose a confusion. He couldn't believe why he was suddenly capable of such compassion, was this side of him merely locked away?

As unthinkable as the concept was to him, his feelings towards the fact that perhaps goodness could exist in this world, began to open themselves up to change.

He felt that she should simply talk to her in an attempt to calm her down; she deserved that at least. He knew from experience that the mental effects of elemental depletion usually took a few hours to clear up, for all he knew she could be struck with this frightened daze for a long while yet.

He wanted to make sure that this time, Jacinta would have the company that he himself didn't have in the same situation many years ago.

Eric assured her with a faint smile. "It's okay to be scared."

"Are you scared?" She whispered.

That was a difficult question. He was scared - very much so - but agreeing with her would not be in the slightest reassuring. He lay in a uncertain silence, before finally breaking the tension with a lie.

"Mm. No."

A white lie shouldn't hurt.

"Really?"

"You learn to push past it." He said. Alison came into his mind as the statement left his tongue. "Odd."

She was beginning to sound distressed.

"Is it, really that easy?... I don't think I'll be able to control this. I feel so trapped. I want to run away, from this place, I want to be... be alone….."

All of a sudden she clenched her eyes shut tightly to hold back tears, turning away from him and she clutched herself protectively. Eric acted immediately, quickly pushing aside all grudge and placing his hand softly upon hers in a desperate attempt to calm her down, holding onto it ever so loosely. It felt warm.

"Shhh…" He hushed, letting out exactly what he felt freely from his mouth. "Please don't be scared Jacinta. You can control it."

"I want to leave!"

"No. Don't run away, please. You'll control it. I… I'll make sure that you can!" He reassured tersely.

Tears sat weakly on the edge of her eyes, frozen as the tension within her caved away. She began to breath slower as her early stages of hyperventilation cooled down, falling silent as she descended into a relaxed state.

"Did that help?"

The room fell quiet, She lay in silence for an anxious stretch of time.

Fear shot through him dryly. Eric couldn't tell what exactly she was feeling right now.

He quickly let go of her hand and crossed his arms uncomfortably, getting up out of his chair as he seeped with regret. What on earth possessed him to do that!? He didn't above anything want to creep her out. Not this early on. Was this just a natural behaviour of his?... to damage friendships from the very start of their development?

He rudely turned to walk away, however his attempts to leave her side were interrupted.

"No. Don’t go." She mumbled. She opened her eyes again and looked at him. That fragility was still within them. It coaxed him back immediately.

"I liked that." She whispered. "I'm sorry if I'm asking too much but just… just stay here for a little longer."

"Of course." He comforted, hesitantly sliding his hand back onto hers.

Eric thought about that lie. How silly it sounded once presented in front of another person. He felt that he wanted to remove it's falsehood. "Pushing past it." Alison can do it; so what's the loss in him trying?

"Haha. Oh dear…" Eric thought, laughing to himself silently upon the realisation of why here was here in the first place. It contradicted his normal work ethic records entirely. His previous attempts to leave would have been pointless, as this was his assigned duty after all.

So now here he was, holding the hand of a girl that he barely knew, helplessly fighting back awkwardness for the sake of looking after another who shared his own pain. And now, he was even reconsidering his own motives simply for her.

"Talk about some sheer bloody commitment to ward duty..."

V

"Haha, well, that panic issue has been secured, and through another pathetic grab for power nonetheless…" Sighed Li-Pau Nao to his assistant information officer, leaning heavily in his chair as he flicked data across a large multi-monitor screen. A heavily clipped replay of the phrase "...It's my solemn promise as your elected leader." played over the speakers quietly.

"Hmm?" Mumbled Miki curiously, directing her attention away from her laptop. She analysed the video up on Nao's screen as he replayed it, and her eyes widened.

"This was around seventy eight minutes ago." Added Nao.

"Elected. What a silly little lie." Laughed Miki in a faintly sarcastic manner as she listened intently.

"This isn't good." He observed, speaking worriedly. "My data suggests that not only does Duma have ties with Calypso Industries but that they had a hand in Khoury's death…"

"It's to be expected. They're corrupt to the core." Miki stated.

"Quite so, but."

He paused as he mentally sifted through information. "Well I can't help but think that winning the support of the population won't be as easy as we have hoped it to be, infinitely harder to be perfectly honest..." He continued. He looked at Miki as he anticipated a response.

Miki frowned. This situation had just descended into a critical phase before they even had the whisker of a chance to properly prepare. "The point that lies within sabotaging Calypso still remains. We still gain supplies. However, the whole thing will have to be delayed…"

"But the manpower would have been very handy." Nao concluded, finishing her sentence. The young man began to look annoyed. It was becoming difficult for him to keep calm and collected.

"Mm." Miki nodded in agreement. "If only this nuisance of a thing had happened after we destroyed them… hah, if it were a perfect world. Mathieu won't like this, as if the situation could be any more dangerous. Our plans to sack Calypso will now be much more difficult to execute in the future, especially when government officials begin to overrun the place. We must act quickly before this happens."

"Agreed… but not only that, the company will be quickly revived through trusts funds with the Sanctuary knowing how the oligarchy operates. Eventually both will be absorbed into the same superpower of a corporation. God, when that happens, it'd be a shameful loss if we even tried" He added.

"This is especially the case due to our depleted supply of sufficient guardians. Two children and, myself… " Cut in Miki, sound ever so slightly disappointed.

Nao laughed nervously, "It'd be a death sentence. Oh, no offense to your ability or anything though, haha..."

"Hah. I appreciate your kindness, but you can't argue with hard facts." Replied Miki with a quick smile. "If this happened an hour or so ago then we've got some urgent catching up to do. We need to report this to higher authority immediately to determine the best course of action."

"Yes." concluded Nao in solid agreement.

...

"Reginald…" spoke Mathieu with nothing but bitter disappointment. The mere thought of this murderer sitting on the rustic throne of African rule burnt him deeply. "Slipping so ungratefully into this honourless title of Elder Duma." he laughed with disposition. He cooled himself down quickly, refitting the glasses on his face and cracking this knuckles in his right hand as he quietly observed the course of events that had just presented in front of him.

Both Miki and Nao waited silently at his side for their superior to come to a conclusion.

"What's your conclusion?" Asked Miki with a last inclusion.

Political upheaval. A mastermind of the masses assuming the yoke. The resumption of total political control over the people once again. These events would at any time bring fourth Ghost_K's exposure and following destruction. They were like vermin to this nation, living in muddy derelict holes underground as their predators poked and prodded around relentlessly for any sign of their hideaways, even if it did mean one bloodied square metre at a time. Duma knew they were hiding within this political zone, and he was well aware the worldly prices that were on offer for a live capture of every single one of them. Mathieu had been betrayed, such a promise proved to be too tempting for Duma, something like petty tradition or honour failed in withholding these desires.

"Honour has become extinct." Cursed Mathieu mentally.

"Our little affair with Calypso - out the window." He stated bluntly.

As prey, victory against larger opponents relied on extreme tactical precision and speed. That meant…

"There is no choice. We'll have to deal with Duma immediately." He stated sternly.

They had no other alternative other than removing Duma himself out of the picture. And if that wasn't enough, he was far too well aware about Ghost_K's aspirations and typical behaviour when intercepting world events; this deed was most certainly well overdue.

He applied pressure to the side of his collar-mounted communication bead, and spoke into the Block's public channel. "All staff, prepare immediately for battle stations, condition three! I repeat, battle stations, condition three! Comply immediately!"

"Sir?" Replied Nao, eager for further orders.

"Issue a base wide alert. Ready the guardians and yourself Agent Nao. We need all the resources we have available."

"Yes. Understood." Replied Nao affirmatively, before swiftly exiting the room.

A worried look plagued Mathieu's face. Keeping calm in the midst of chaos was naturally a calm situation for him; but that was only with a visible assurance of victory somewhere inside these piles of political carnage. Puzzles meshed together only when there was sufficient pieces on the board to begin with, and manpower was at an all time low. There was only four capable guardians, Alison, Nao, Laurence and himself.

That Jacinta girl could be readied just in time given an hour or two. This could serve as a rushed introductory course, squeezing out what little potential that lied within her and putting it to its maximum use. The though mildly struck him with the memory of the last time an inexperienced Guardian had been deployed in a high risk field operation, especially so with what had happened to Laurence.

He made a personal note to take the past mistakes in that field into full account. But: while ideally such a mission required all hands on deck, for this time only, she was completely out of the question.

"And then there's Eric" He sighed to himself.

He immediately assumed that delinquent would be consumed by fear and not want to even think about it, and like Jacinta, he decided that shouldering any more risks would be stupid, for both of the children's cases. He pushed the very thought of recruiting them aside.

"Poor kid…" He thought. Memories of the boy's father entered his mind from the hazy, long dormant corner where he deliberately locked them away.

"You're being awfully quiet. This isn't like you." Interrupted Miki.

"I need to think." He cut in, realising that he had entered a continuous pattern of paces across the room. "I have worked with Duma in the past, Information Officer Albraun. We were once acquainted soon before the African aristocracy was dissolved and this nation fell into the grasp of a capitalist oligarchy. That man knows how to play the cards, and he plays them with pinpoint precision…"

"That's also what you assigned me to do." She replied in a lukewarm tone. "I've decided to actively take part in this mission myself. I'm certain this would be of benefit towards the efficiency of our command structure."

Mathieu halted. "Are you certain? But.. Your.."

"My artificial body?" She finished his sentence, crossing her arms. She was unwilling to tinker around this truth with subtlety. "Placidity isn't the mother of success Commander, risk is."

"This is a risk you that you burden yourself with then." He continued.

"I understand." Assured Miki calmly. She proceeded to connect a translucent magenta cube- shaped memory drive into a socket in the side of the central table, as a holographic map of the ensuing operation simultaneously projected itself upon the main view screen with a flash of light. "I've managed to get a hold of a blueprint of the sanctuary thanks to some faithful agents of mine."

"Ahh, yes. Excellent." responded Mathieu, as he leant against the table, grasping its edges confidently as he focused on the screen.

The twin doors behind them slid open with a metallic whine. Eric was the first to enter the room, hands in pockets, fully equipped and ready for duty.

"Surprise, surprise." He smirked as he threw his mission pack around his shoulder.

"Eric?" Replied Mathieu. He was practically short of words, absolutely startled to receive his presence.

...

Panic.

Jacinta shuffled around hurriedly, accompanied by the loud presence of warbling alarms that echoed violently through the halls. She had Eric's backpack clasped firmly in her hands, throwing in whatever useful commodities she could find within this destitute complex.

Upon leaving, Eric told her that she had to take part in this mission. Already, this began to terrify her to the point where she began to feel nauseated. But she couldn't argue against this, being instead wedged inside the paper thin corridor of decision that was decided for her. It felt as if they were all waiting for her, expecting her to perform perfectly, ready to judge her.

She didn't know to deal with this.

"No!" She whimpered, as the thoughts painfully stabbed themselves through her fragile heart, ignoring her sincere pleases for it to stop. She shivered colder than the room itself, as every reflex that writhed out of her forced itself instinctively towards running away.

She couldn't stop thinking how much she may hurt Eric once she left, and if this backpack meant anything to him. But she was frightened, she wanted to go back to a place she where she had complete control and familiarity, even if it was up on the cold streets.

All she wanted was to be alone. This string of several whole weeks comprised of nothing but her leeching off of other's compassion. It made her extremely uncomfortable, evoking the feeling as if she was an imposter, and that she didn't deserve this in the slightest; as if she was only an ungrateful little runt. She tinkered around the hope that Eric wouldn't mind, making herself believe that her absence would not be felt.

He seemed to be the only one who actually took the time to think about her. But no, this time, she had to push somebody away from her once again.

Her personal space was to only ever be taken up by her own anxiety. Nothing else was allowed. It dictated her life, her actions, her thoughts, becoming one with her course of destiny. It was her master.

She sighed heavily, swallowing the urge to break into tears. Picking up a piece of scrapped paper and a pen, she scribbled down the first thing she felt in attempt to sooth this urge of regret, and she was out of here.

"I'm sorry. "

"Thank you for everything. "

She stormed down an empty corridor, snatching her handbag from the locker she was kindly allocated, and left for the exit lifts on the far edge of the complex. To her advantage, she knew the non-combat use exits were on the exact opposite of the command bridge, so if there was a chance of her bumping into somebody, it'd be at its absolute minimal.

Emotional sickness swelled up inside her, and she bit her bottom lip as she fought back tears angrily, cursing her own weakness.

"Hold it together Jacinta. You've only got yourself to watch out for you…"


Index

  • Elemental sickness: A depletion mental stability due to exceeding maximum mental capacity. Induced by powerful elemental manipulation without proper training and/or preparation beforehand, such as an elemental outburst of a new guardian. Results in a crippling catatonic state. Can result in sickness, dehydration, fever, hallucinations, and even death if left untreated (typically depletion ranges of below -50Eu or above +500Eu are labelled as lethal). Can be induced artificially, where it can cause a similar effect to that of electrocution, and is typically used as a form of torture. Can be treated through re-hydration, inducing a mentally sedated/relaxed effect on the patient, or in worse cases an injection of a nanobot neutraliser solution.
  • Level Delta: The surface metropolis level is only one facet of the urban sprawl that covers the planet. (See image right for more information:)


K21LOGOpunk
Chronology
K21 - Dusty Blinds · K21 - I'm With You · K21 - Prayer · K21 - Kindred · K21 - Degenerate · ...
Prequels & Stand Alone Stories
Vallarian Trilogy · Ortus Continuity · Antecedence Double Trilogy · Artificial Elemental Trilogy · K21 - Broken Faith · K21 - Substantial Illusions · K21 - Judgement In Duty · K21 - Aces High · K21 - Limitless Sun · K21 - Distorted Closure · K21 - Loose Ends · K21 - Attache Case

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