"A GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY"
February 20th, 2018 / Lee Memorial Library / Ringgold City, TN
"I must apologize for the confusion, I did say earlier that the bomb was in a backpack, but what I meant was I had one planted in each of the young women's purses. It was an honest mistake", Tech lied, mocking One over the mass murder he had committed.
Jon was sickened by the sight of the pile of charred bodies. Not a single student had survived the blast; just like that fifty people had lost their lives, all that future potential snuffed out like a small flame on a wick. Tech had been right, Jon had failed them all. As he managed to rise back to his feet and the sprinkler system overhead came to life he was forced to switch to his small in-suit oxygen supply as he caught the first whiffs of the smell of burnt flesh. The small sample of the putrid smell made his stomach flop. He tried to regain his composure as Tech slowly approached him.
"Oh how they will hate you now One, all those mourning parents who will curse your name to the TV cameras, just think of the firestorm that will create. This will be the beginning of your ending".
"Shut up", Jon replied, suddenly feeling lightheaded.
"What's the matter One? Can't handle the truth"?
"I… said… shut up", now Jon felt like he was going to black out.
Tech laughed at the hero, "If only you were capable of making me".
Jon clinched his fists as Tech came to a stop not ten feet away from him. He would never be able to stop Tech, not like this, the android was just too powerful. He only had one play left, it was a gamble, but it might feed Tech's ego enough to end the killings. He looked to his left to see Vanisher finally rising to his feet as well.
"Vanisher, we're retreating", Jon ordered.
"Retreating. We can't beat him, and staying here only puts the rest of the people here at risk. We leave and he has no more deaths to pin on us".
"That's not an option", Tech said, unable to mask his surprise.
"I'm making it one", Jon snapped back as he began to lift off.
"No, you're not", Tech corrected, he outstretched his arm as a whip exploded from his wrist and wrapped around One's ankle, with a powerful jerk he brought the hero back to the ground.
As Jon began to stand back up Tech lashed a second whip around his neck before using the one wrapped his leg to pull his feet out from underneath him, putting him on his back once again. With a quick spin Tech able to fling the armored hero across the building, sending him crashing into the lip of the 2nd floor wrap around. Jon crashed to the floor with a splash as the water from the sprinklers was beginning to flood the ground floor; he pushed aside a corpse that had floated nearby as he tried to get up on a knee. Clearly Tech was never going to let him leave peacefully; he would have to make a stand. As he looked at the faces forever frozen in terror and anguish something in his soul began to burn,
"Fine Tech, you are so hell bent for a fight? I'll give you the fight of your life", Jon growled.
Tech looked on puzzled, One sounded… different. As the hero stood parts of his armor began to glow. Tech was quick to lash one of his whips back around the hero's neck, sending an electric charge through it, but the attack seemed to have no effect. Jon wrapped his arm around the whip and ripped it out of Tech's armor with a single tug. As the god of technology the AI wasn't very familiar with the concept of dread, but he was becoming a quick study.
Vanisher looked on with his own worries. He knew what was coming, and there was no stopping it now. Tech was about to have his hands more then full, so now was the perfect opportunity for him to begin evacuating the survivors before the oncoming fight brought the whole building down on them.
Jon welcomed the feeling of losing control of himself for the first time, this time he wouldn't fight it, he would let the monster inside him do the deed he himself was not able to do. He looked to the forthcoming blinding rage as a form of freedom. It would be a poetic way end Tech once and for all and avenge the lives he had taken, justice was supposed to be blind after all. Tech, in an act of desperation to regain control of the situation wrapped his remaining whip around the hero's neck. He reached for it and effortlessly tore it away. It reminded him of his encounter with Hell Bringer just a few days before, and that was all that was needed to for the flood of power and anger to consume him.
Tech quickly switched from dread to panic. TAG One's entire armor now had a golden glow about it, he had heard rumors of this power from Hell Bringer, but had doubted the validity of the villain's claims as merely rationalizing his defeat. The hero seemingly twitched and then closed a near sixty foot gap between them in the blink of an eye. He let out a primitive roar as he delivered a punch to Tech's jaw. The impact sent the android skipping across the know foot deep water before he crashed into a bookcase. The hit had jarred him; his internal systems had to take a moment to recalibrate before he could stand again. That's when he noticed the dent in his allegedly indestructible armor. TAG One had done the impossible; he had made a god bleed.
Back in the circle of golden light Jon enjoyed the sight he was beholding. Tech was clearly in shock at the power of the beast. He pumped his fist in enjoyment, but was shocked when he saw the beast do the same thing.
"I told you that you could control it if you just let go', Kimberly told him as she materialized beside him, 'though that was before you deleted our first exchange from your mind".
"Will you ever tell me how you are here? How you know this stuff"?
"You know how I am here, or you did at least. The Outback Simulation, it's created using both of our memories, and since the whole system runs through your suit to make it more realistic my memories were processed through your neuro-connectors. Eventually after the several run throughs there was enough digital residue of me in your manifest. And thus I've been with you this whole time like a guardian angel, this circle of light? It's a creation of mine. I made it to separate you from your rage so it wouldn't consume you, had I not been here you would never have come out of the gold mode, it would have destroyed you. As far as how I know the things I do I can't say, we'll leave it at I am a mouthpiece for someone who knew I was the best person to reach out to you with".
"So you know about the simulation? I can explain…"
"There is no need. It's touching to see you care about me so much but you need to stop tormenting yourself. The past is the past, and no matter how many times you run that specific simulation you will never find a way to save me, there is none. It's like a play, you are so focused on the leads, but you need to look at the big picture. A play has supporting characters, extras, and stagehands to make the whole thing work and run smoothly. Try to remember that next time you run the simulation".
"What on earth are you talking about Kimberly"?
"I'm telling you to take off the blinders and embrace your surroundings. What happens around you can be just as important as what is in front of you or even more so. Take our current situation, you're focused on me when what's going out there is what is important", Kimberly said as she pointed to the view of Tech charging One's body.
"I have no control over that though, that's the beast".
"Did you not listen to me earlier? There is no beast. That's you out there, that's your subconscious, your buried rage fighting, but its still you. I just had to wait until you were strong enough to control the rage, not it control you."
"And you think I'm ready now"?
"No, I know you're ready. Go get'em cowboy".
Kimberly leaned in and gave Jon a soft kiss on his lips. He closed his eyes and pulled her in. He had missed this, missed her, more then he could have ever imagined. He didn't know if she was in fact real, but right now he didn't care. Delusion or not he had her back. As he opened his eyes he was stunned by a flash of metal. Out of instinct he ducked as Tech made a wild punch, when the android attempted another haymaker he threw up his arm to block it, when he felt the impact he knew this was no dream. He delivered a swift kick to Tech's torso, knocking the android back and giving Jon a moment to regain his bearings. He looked at his arms which still had a golden glow to them; he was controlling the gold mode!
In the back of his mind he heard a faint whisper from Kimberly, "I am prouder of you then you could ever know. I will always be with you. Now do me one last favor, kick his metal butt".
"With pleasure", Jon whispered aloud through a grin.
As Tech charged at him again he easily side stepped him and delivered a powerful blow to the back of the androids head with his elbow. Now that he had some breathing room he could exam his surroundings. He glanced around, they were still on the ground floor, but it was utterly destroyed now. He himself was still half propped up on a pile of overturned bookcases. The sprinkler system had shut off at some point, but not before leaving a pool of water over his knees. He could see Vanisher popping in and out of view, evacuating the remaining civilians.
As he took his first step forward he could feel the drastic increase in his strength, it was incredible. The power was surging through him now, even in his fingertips he felt stronger then ever before. How all this power had laid dormant in him was beyond him. But now it was under his control, he couldn't wait until his next run in with Hell Bringer. Jon shook his head, he was getting ahead of himself, he needed to focus on the task at hand. He could see the android was seething as it inspected the footprint he had left earlier in its chest.
"Didn't account for this did you you bucket of bolts? I'm going to beat you into a silicone pulp", Jon yelled as he began to charge, sloshing through the water.
Tech drew his sword and rushed at One, raising it over his head. As the gap between them disappeared Tech began to bring his weapon down, but Jon was ready for the attack. He blocked it by crashing his left forearm into Tech's, arresting his downward swing, with a single push off the weapon was put out of play, leaving Tech open for a right cross. Jon landed the punch solidly, turning Tech's head a full 90º, which would have killed anything human. The AI was anything but though as it cracked its head back in place.
Undeterred Jon dealt an uppercut that launched his foe to the third floor walkway. He swiftly flew after him, Tech waiting for him by the time he arrived. The android rushed him again, aiming his sword for Jon's neck. The hero was able to duck under the blade, grabbing Tech's wrist as it swung overhead. He pulled the android's entire arm away from his body, pushing his own foot into Tech's side for leverage. Using all the strength he could muster Jon pulled, ripping the arm off the android's body. Tech instantly reeled at the feat.
"How did you do that? This metal is indestructible"!
"Everything has its limits, and you've reached yours Tech, you're through",
The android said nothing as Jon tossed its own arm at its feet. It remained silent as it bent over to retrieve its arm, the sword still clutched in its hand. It held the arm in place as the nanobots worked feverishly to reattach the severed metallic limb. Once the task was completed Tech inspected the craftsmanship with a few simple stretches.
"Ready to continue your beating now", Jon mocked?
"I'm afraid you'll be too busy catching innocent bystanders", Tech replied in his own mocking tone.
The android looked around for the brainwashed masses to begin jumping to their deaths, but there was none. He spun around to look behind him, then bent over the railing to peer down at the lower levels, nothing.
"I take it you didn't notice Vanisher evacuating everyone. There are no more pawns for you to play Tech. But now that I know we are all alone in here I can let loose. Guess that makes that check".
Tech took a step back, telling Jon the AI was afraid, it didn't realize he had been holding back. That was all the motivation he needed. He drew his sword which found new life as his new power surged into it. He couldn't resist as a smile again crept across his face, he was going to really, really enjoy this. With a loud battle cry he charged Tech, who was already putting his sword in a defensive hold. As the blades clashed though something unforeseen happened, Tech watched as One's blade sliced through his own, then ripped through his shoulder.
The cut was clean and completely sliced through the metal, the separated chunk clanging as it hit the floor. Upon seeing this new display of power the android knew only one course of action, retreat. It turned to flee, which was a costly choice. Jon seized it at the shoulder with one hand, using the leverage to drive his sword into the android's back, the blade coming through its chest and causing its body to seize from the attack. Tech fell forward to the ground, clearly not getting back up.
"And that would be check and mate".
Jon used his sword to cut a slit down Tech's back. He drove his hands into the opening and used his new strength to peel back the metal. Inside was a mess of wires and components Jon could never hope to identify. But the damaged orb in the center, the one raining sparks, he knew was the power core for the android. Tech was finally down for good. As he scanned the mechanical organs of the machine he recognized one other piece of hardware, he used his sword to cut it free. Looking it over in his hands it was indeed an antenna similar to the one their robo-clones used to communicate internally with each other, the TAG main computer, and TAG themselves. This was what Tech had used to control the nanobots and hack their COM.
"Vanisher, Tech is down, could use your help in here", Jon said over the COM.
A few seconds later Vanisher appeared beside him.
"Congratulations on the victory One, I was unaware you had gained control over this… state", Vanisher said in a probing manner in regards to One's still golden armor.
"Its news to me too, trust me. Not sure how to turn it off to be honest', Jon acknowledged, 'I found this in the android, think you can use it to help Hannah"?
"Indeed. I can use it to figure out what frequency Tech was transmitting on and take control over his nanobots, rendering them harmless".
"Good, now we just need to figure out some sort of containment unit for Tech. Any ideas"?
"Possibly, though I believe the best course of action would be removing the AI from the armor as a whole first. If I can locate his storage matrix I might could… ah, here it is", Tech stated as he reached inside the android for a small metal box the size of a wallet.
Before he could retrieve the device however Vanisher was blasted backwards violently. Jon looked up in time to see a fireball splash across his visor. The impact caused him to stumble backwards, but he was quick to regain his footing. At the other end of the walkway stood the same hooded fiend that kicked his butt that morning in the warehouse, he was already wielding two more fireballs.
"That little trick won't work anymore I'm afraid", Jon warned, excited for the rematch.
"Fine. Try this then".
Making the fireballs dissipate Cloak outstretched his arm and motioned for the hero to come at him, Jon didn't disappoint. He quickly closed on the new villain, then came at him with a powerful right cross that didn't even seem to touch the villain, but he know he had felt the impact. He tried again with the same result, impact but not with Cloak himself. After a third strike he realized what felt off, he was indeed not hitting the villain. Somehow he had gotten his hands on a force field generator.
Jon disengaged immediately and took a few steps back; he was unsure how to proceed. Clearly his increased strength alone wasn't going to cut it. His hesitation cost him dearly as Cloak took the opportunity to strike. The villain stretched out his arm, the force field becoming a visible film like substance before exploding forward, the strike was powerful enough to knock Jon off his feet. He rolled away as soon as he could, barely dodging another attack. He was soon on his feet and running the perimeter of the floor as Cloak continued to strike at him, each attack missing by inches. As Jon reached the opposite side of the library his fleeing had begun from he noticed the attacks had stopped. As he turned his attention back to Cloak the villain had projected his force field over Vanisher's helmet, and now held the still unconscious hero out over the edge of the walkway, a straight drop to the ground beneath him.
"No more flight One, there is only fight".
"Or what, you'll drop him? A fall like that in his armor Vanisher won't even feel it tomorrow", Jon said, calling Cloak's bluff.
"Who said I was just going to drop him"?
Cloak clinched his outstretched hand which was projecting the force field. Jon was puzzled what the meaning of the spectacle was until he began to notice the odd shape Vanisher's helmet was in, Cloak was literally squeezing him to death. As Vanisher's visor shattered under the pressure Jon launched himself at his friend, desperate to reach him before it was too late. Cloak smiled as he watched the hero fly through the air, how predictable.
Cloak waited, timing his strike, as Jon flew by he reached out with his force field using his free hand, seizing the hero's feet. With a simple clinching of his hand Cloak crushed Jon's rocket boots and broke both his feet. The deed done Cloak released both heroes, leaving to fall the three floors to the water below.
One tried to rise to his feet but the mangled shape of his feet prevented it, the best he could manage was crawling on all fours. He made his way to Vanisher and lifted his head above the water, propping him against a nearby chair to assure he didn't drown. He looked up to see Cloak slowly descending towards him.
"That's right big shot, come down here and I'll show you what's what", Jon bluffed.
Again Cloak smiled, releasing a volley of attacks with his force field. Jon was able to roll away from the first strike, but the second one grazed his side, cutting through his armor. The villain clamped the force field over his arm and tossed him into the air. When he landed on his back he tried quickly to sit up but a strike hit him on the left side of his head, it connected solidly and Jon briefly saw stars. He tried again to rise to his feet but a sudden searing pain in his shoulder took priority.
Jon screamed in anguish as he found the source of his pain, Cloak had pierced through his armor with another force field projection. Cloak had him pinned. As the villain pushed him back under the water line Jon struggled through the pain but was unable to free himself as water began flooding his helmet.
Cloak brought the hero back up for air, "This wasn't near as hard as I was told it was going to be".
"Oh shut up! You villains and your gloating! If you're going to finish it shut your mouth and do it!"
"With pleasure', Cloak replied as he raised his free hand to deal the death blow, but then there was a pause, 'what the hell do you mean"?
Jon opened his eyes, having had closed them when he expected to meet his end. Cloak had a hand under his hood; Jon suspected he was pressing an audio device into his ear. Someone was communicating with him, or more likely based on the conversation giving him orders.
"But I have him dead to rights! I can end this whole thing right now! All I have to do is push him back and let him drown, then we won't have to worry about him effecting the plan', Cloak shouted at the voice in his ear, 'What the hell do you mean he's part of the plan?! I don't understand, you said that… fine, we'll do it your way",
"Hell Bringer want the honor all to himself", Jon mocked?
"Don't flatter yourself", Cloak warned, pulling his force field lance out of Jon's shoulder.
He cried out at the renewed pain as Cloak again raised his hand against him, and then everything went black.