There was a long silence as the grey suited guards slowly flooded into the Holding Complex behind the technician slowly spreading out along the circular walkway ringing the outer perimeter of the chamber. Claire knew that the weapons the held were all trained on the machine in front of her but still she couldn't help but feel that it was her that all of the guns were pointed at.

[Oh it's you, as always it is most definitely not a pleasure to see you human.] the yellow-lit Alpha level craned its neck to face Edmund, the wings on its back flexing ever so slightly as it did so.

"You're one to talk machine, last I spoke to you face to face you killed half a dozen of my colleagues before we could get you back inside the sphere."

[I plead self defense.] 0.04, a haughty expression forming in her eyes as she raised her arms up slightly in mock surrender.

"The jury does not agree, they find you guilty of manslaughter and sentence you to confinement in your cell, for life, however many eternities that that may be for you machine." Edmund hissed, responding coldly to the machine's games.

[Now that seems a little unreasonable, don't you think Claire?] the machine said stooping down to look Claire in the eye. The girl turned away not knowing how to respond. 0.04 sighed slightly at the girls response, [Well I suppose it might have been too much to ask for a human to be on my side.]

Claire did not know what to do; it seemed that she had let loose something far worse than the Hunter Spyder by freeing this 0.04 from the spherical prison. The machine in front of her had yet to do anything yet but there was a deadly tension in the air that had not been there before even when the Hunter Spyder had still been "alive". There was something different about this walking talking communicating machine, this so called Alpha level. It wasn't that she had ever seen something like this before; it just…felt wrong to her, she just didn't know why.

"Get back in that prison, don't make me put you in there by force Alpha level, you know I can do it."

[And you and I both know that you won't, not here, not now. Not when I can slice and dice so many of you poor fragile humans before you can get me contained and shut me down.]

"There are ways to keep you from moving."

The machine laughed and the sound was like the hissing of acid as it bubbled through stone, [You refer to the spectromic particle field yes?], a ripple passed through the crowd, and Claire thought she saw the distinctive look of fear slowly creep into the visible faces. She had no idea what this 0.04 was talking about and yet she still found its words strangely familiar, as though she had heard the term before. [Well I'm afraid that such things will not hold me, and besides, your precious A.I is…occupied at the moment, one of my brothers it seems has seen to that.]

From the corner of her eye Claire spotted a tan coloured blur which sped towards them along the length of the walkway; it moved quickly, faster than what should have been possible for a human being and it shot straight for 0.04 without slowing or altering its path. The machine seemed to pause for a moment before swinging out its arm to intercept the object; all of this happened in an instant, less than two seconds by Claire's most generous estimation but he eyes caught it all.

"Hoh, it seems we're about to have a reunion…" the Lieutenant murmured from the side, more to himself than anyone else.

The blur stooped lower to dodge the strike and then there was a gunshot which boomed through the emptiness of the Complex, the sound bounced again and again within the cavernous sphere. 0.04 staggered backwards as the bullet smashed into her shoulder at point blank range leaving her no time to react; the tan coloured blur slowed just enough as it circled around once more for it to be recognizable as a person; a young boy in a tan coat moving impossibly quickly. The boy let off another volley of shots but this time the Alpha level swatted them away before they could do any real harm.

[So they sent a machine killer, is that what you are?] 0.04 hissed, [You are most definitely human from the looks of it and yet you move far too quickly to be ordinary, I doubt those others can even see you clearly as you move. What are you?] the machine crouched lower and ignited a short ionblade which extended from just above its left wrist.

The fast moving boy slowed to a real stop for the first time, offering Claire her first good look at him, "I? I am your reaper, no more and no less, Alpha level." The raven haired boy said, his grey eyes flashing angrily. His tan coloured overcoat fluttered listlessly from the leftover energy of his movements creating an illusion of wind within the chamber.

[Your weapon, that projectile launcher you hold in one hand, is that what you intend to destroy me with? Even if you are fast your speed will not affect the overall lethality of your weapon, if you truly intend to kill me then there must be something that you are still hiding, am I correct?]

"Perhaps, would you like to find out?" There was a dangerous glint in the boy's eyes, a strikingly familiar glint at that. Why was everything Claire was seeing today generating such a sense of nostalgia?

"#200," Claire heard the murmur move slowly through the room, and all eyes soon fell upon the boy. Just who was he, and what was the meaning of this number? Whatever it really meant, it was certainly important enough that the guards around the room were lowering their weapons and pulling back as far away from the central platform as possible.

"Go ahead Mapper, we'll leave you to your work if that's what you want." Edmund said to the boy before taking a step back himself, which drew a nod from the boy.

[Their confidence in you is inspiring, but I still do not have enough faith in your combat ability to even think that you are a worthy opponent.] the machine ignited a blade from its other wrist, and the wings behind its back twitched ever so slightly, [It will take more than great speed to kill me, human.] the Alpha level turned to look down at Claire, [I suggest you take a step back, this might get messy.]

Claire began to pull back as instructed when the boy stepped in her path to block her way. "So it is you; it's been awhile 'Eagle Eye', why you let that Alpha level there go free is beyond me, but since you're here why don't you come with me and help me kill this thing?."

[Interesting, so you two warriors are acquainted with each other then?] 0.04 asked, seemingly interested in something for the first time. Her wrist blades dipped lower ever so slightly, taking them to more of a disengaged position.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Claire said, taken aback. "I've never seen you before in my life." Just what had he meant by referring to her as 'Eagle Eye'? Claire had never even heard the term before.

Unseen in the rest of the watching crowd, the Lieutenant looked on intently carefully observing the exchange, his eyes filled with anticipation and knowledge. He had had many theories about just who exactly this girl was, but had not managed to think of any method for testing them. The appearance of this seemingly superhuman boy however changed things dramatically; his mere existence eliminated the vast majority of the possibilities narrowing the range down to less than half a dozen scenarios. The fact that the boy recognized Claire narrowed down the range once more to one single possibility with two options, and her reactions after that to any further talk on the subject would determine the Lieutenant's conclusion.

The boy cocked his head to the side, "I don't see any reason for why you wouldn't; we weren't in the same unit but we competed regularly enough, Miss Claire Elizabeth Shaw."

That was Claire's full name alright, but how did this stranger know? There was no way that he had seen her before in the past and he didn't resemble anyone she had even glanced at in Spire City. Just who was he and how did he recognize her?

"I'm sorry, I really don't recognize you at all." Claire said, genuinely confused, and perhaps just a tiny bit afraid though she did her best to hide it.

He raised an eyebrow as a doubtful expression crossed his face, "You don't seem to be lying as far as I can tell, but you really should be able to remember me. It also would seem that you no longer realize what you are, which though suspicious is not unheard of I suppose. Well then, if you're not going to help me then step aside so I can do my job." The boy finished, moving aside to allow Claire to move past.

"I don't understand what you're saying, who do you think I am? I'm just a normal person, how could I help you kill that thing even if I wanted to?" Claire burst out, feeling a little shaken. She didn't understand fully what this boy was saying, but the implications were clear enough and she didn't like what he was saying one bit.

From the side the Lieutenant shook his head; the outcome was a disappointing conclusion as to who exactly Claire was. He had his answer, but now it was time to intervene before things got messy, the girl wasn't ready for the truth yet. And now was most certainly not the time, though he had never seen one in action he had heard rumours of what an Alpha level was capable of and he didn't care to have any of his charges fall to such a fate, not even an expendable like Clair. Why bother using her as a guinea pig when this boy right here was already offering himself onto the platter?

"You're not even worth my time if you don't remember who you are, or perhaps were. Step aside, I've a job to do and you're in my way."

"No, tell me what you—" Claire started.

"Stand down recruit, this is not a time for you to be discussing personal matters." The Lieutenant suddenly interrupted, having walked all the way down the walkway to where Claire stood without her noticing somehow.

"What?! But he sai—"

"I said stand down. Leave this…Mapper, was it, to his job. We're here because we're looking into your personal matters anyways, we're here to get some answers for some questions which I have, not you. This has nothing to do with us, let's go."

"You're not actually my boss, and I have other places that I should be at if it weren't for the fact that you're detaining me with you, I'll do as I ple—"

The Lieutenant narrowed his eyes and his fingers crept over to the bulge at his hip where his handgun was holstered, he purposefully exaggerated the movement so that Claire saw it clearly, his meaning was clear. He was not going to ask her to step back from the machine and the boy again. She scowled in disgust and frustration, but relented and stepped back from the central ring along the walkway back to the outer ring with the Lieutenant following closely behind her.

[Well now that all your tiresome talk is done and over with, shall we begin?] 0.04 hummed; surprisingly she hadn't used all the time to strike or try and escape. Rather odd for a combat robot, and almost disturbingly…human.

"I'm surprised you waited machine, I expected you to try and kill me while I was off guard, did the tactic not register in that electronic mind of yours; is such creativity and adaptive reflex beyond the grasps of your electrode studded thing you call a brain?"

[You are full of talk, but you cannot slay me with mere words.] the Alpha level replied briskly before leaping forwards with blazing speed, its yellow highlight flashing.

From somewhere beneath his coat Claire saw the boy produce a meter long blade which he activated with a crackling hiss that filled the air with the smell of ozone as he intercepted the 0.04's first impossibly quick strike, slapping the first thrust of the machine's wrist blades aside even as it aimed yet another strike at his heart, as before the boy disengaged and twisted to the side with inhuman speed and counterattacked with a broad swing of his own sending the burning blade hissing through the empty air as the Alpha level smoothly sidestepped the blow.

It happened at impossible speeds and yet Claire managed to catch every single detail as though it was happening at a reasonable pace, she herself was actually only seeing the blurred outlines of the two combatants as they clashed and yet somehow as the images entered her brain they were somehow processed and changed into a sequence of actions occurring at more reasonable speeds, as though her brain had somehow slowed down the frame rate at which it registered the photons entering her eyes.

Twice more the two clashed with no visible victor to the engagements until suddenly 0.04 deactivated her left blade; her hand seemed to shimmer and glow as though surrounded by hundreds of individual motes of light, looking as though she held in her hand thousands of LEDs, the boy said nothing but Claire thought that for an instant she saw a look of concern mar the otherwise singularly focused expression which had painted itself across his face. He swung once more but this time the Alpha level didn't move to avoid the hissing blade, instead she intercepted it and closed her glowing hand like a vise around the blade causing an eruption of sparks to burst up from the regions of contact. Abruptly, the blistering movements of the two came to a halt as the machine forced the boy to stop lest he deprive himself of the sword.

[Do you know what will happen if I were to disrupt the magnetic field which is projected around this blade, human?] 0.04 said haughtily, her tone almost mocking.

"Something unpleasant I'm sure," the boy said with a bitter smile on his face. "But still, even if you do that it won't save you, losing this ion blade won't stop me from killing you."

[Your tone implies that you have other blades, but if you should produce them then I will simply crush them in an identical mannerism, you'll have to do better than that to even think about stopping me from moving.]

"Well even if I did have something like that, do you really think I'd tell you robot?"

[No, I don't. But dead people don't have surprises.] 0.04 said as she closed her glimmering first around the blade forcing her way through the field with a sound that reminded Claire of the whine of an ion bolt hissing through the air multiplied tenfold in volume and pitch; all around the room people clutched at their ears.

The effect was instantaneous and immediately devastating, the blade detonated with the force of a super-compressed explosion in a flash of red-orange; the impact caused even the Alpha level to stagger back several steps and scorched the front of her frame with ugly black burn marks. At the last second before it happened Claire saw the boy release his grip on the sword and throw himself away from the detonation, pulling up his coat and wrapping it around his face before he disappeared in the glow of the brilliant flash that followed as the ionized particles escaped their magnetic cage in a massive flash of energy.

[Uhhg, that was rather a rather violent explosion, it's a wonder that 0.01 ever came up with a method for containing all that energy in such a flimsy sheath.] the yellow lit Alpha level hissed as the nano-machines imbedded within its frame got to work repairing the damage to its frontal frame, blue sparks dancing across its body marking their progress of repairs. She looked up from the floor wrenching her gaze from the massive crater which marked where the explosion had occurred and her eyes narrowed to the point where they were almost just slits. [Hoh, so you survived human, most impressive. You are certainly made of sterner stuff than the average ragdoll of your race.]

Thrown almost forty meters in the opposite direction the boy's formerly tan coat looked as though it had been splashed in dark brown and then spattered with thick black acrylic, the skin on his legs which were now revealed by his partially burned away pants was red and blistered from the heat, and the ends of some of his hairs were singed. He spat as he staggered to his feet to meet the Alpha level drawing the handgun he had initially been using once more. "Hah, big deal, you don't look so hot yourself you know?" he huffed out, sounding exhausted and rightfully so. How he could still be standing after taking such a blast was completely beyond Claire.

[You are faster than I first thought, you outran the brunt of the explosion and were struck by only the very edges of the detonation, your speed is admirable, and abnormal. You are more than just a regular human. Just what are you exactly, besides a human who is trying in vain to take me to my grave, if such a thing exists for a machine such as myself.]

"Oh I don't think that my efforts will be in vain, despite my speed I know that things take time to act, such as the spectromic particles which I mixed in with the contents of that ion blade which are slowly, oh so slowly inexorably eating away at your frame even as your nano-machines struggle to counteract them you are slowly melting away." An evil grin crossed the boy's bloodied face.

[Indeed? Well that is no matter.] the Alpha level said, looking bored. Her statement brought on a look of surprise from the boy who obviously wasn't expecting this sort of response. [You see I said in the beginning that such things would not work with me, did I not? I was not lying, spectromic particle fields do not function as they should with me because I am not just a warrior; I am also the Oracle and as such 0.01 saw fit to equip me with the suitable defensive measures, such as a spectromic particle deflector. He himself introduced the particle structure to you humans after all, is it not only logical that he came up with a way to defuse these things which are so dangerous even to an Alpha level such as myself?]

The boy shrugged off his coat which Claire noticed was quickly disintegrating as though it were being eaten away in some slow manner; she guessed that some of these spectromic particles which had been released had struck him as well when he shielded himself with his jacket. Every last detail of the jacket was visible to Claire as though she were crouched right up next to it though she stood at least a hundred meters away on the outer ring whilst the two fought on the central structure. Though his legs had born some of the blast it seemed that somehow he had kept them from being effected by those same particles which were even now disintegrating his coat, curious though that was though the boy seemed to have more important things on his mind.

"So it may be that one of my methods has failed, but I have many other alternative options for your disposal." He spat, pulling himself upright.

He drew a rather strange looking instrument from his hip, one of just many that could now be seen since he had discarded his coat; there must have been a dozen weapons strapped all over his upper body, how he had managed to keep their outlines hidden beneath his jacket before was beyond Claire. The Alpha level rolled its eyes upon seeing the object. It was silvery grey, a resembling a small claw which wrapped around the hand and pulsed a sharp crimson towards its tip. A bead of sweat dripped down from the boy onto the front of the weapon and Claire saw it turn into a puff of steam upon impact emitting a sharp hiss.

[I believe your kind has used such things before against my brother 0.06 to some small effect, however even many of these combined were not enough to bring him down. What use do you think one of them will be against the likes of me? I am far more formidable a combatant than 0.06 ever was; his capabilities were limited by his design, I unlike he am not so hindered by restraints on my ability.]

"If it doesn't work well that still means that it works, and if anyone can make it work well, it'll be me."

A sizzling bolt of energy leap from the front of the weapon disturbingly reminiscent of a Stalker's ion cannon slashing through the air and slamming into the floor as the Alpha level slapped it aside.

[With only minor modifications to a particle deflector field one can use it to protect against other kinds of charged particles as well. Is this really all you've got machine killer? I thought you were an assassin but really you seem like more of a chew toy.]

"Well it would be boring if I laid out all my tricks from the start, wouldn't it? I'll let you see all the basic tools of the trade before I resort to using more advanced methods to take you down, and besides, it wouldn't be any fun if I wiped you out in but a second."

0.04 laughed, [Oh I highly doubt that that is even possible for the likes of you to accomplish.]

"We'll see, how about we go ahead and find out if you can handle this little thing here," the boy said, pulling a short foot long cylinder from his belt; it pulsed with a soft blue light on both ends but was otherwise plain and unassuming. "I doubt you've seen this before, it's something the tech's came up with just recently. Fun as hell to use too if I do say so myself." He said, smiling in spite of his injuries.

Strangely, the boy aimed the tool towards the floor sweeping it before him and amazingly enough the metal beneath him flowed like water at rose op to form a dripping curtain in front of him in the arcing along the path of his stroke. He flicked it downwards and forwards in 0.04's direction and the machine's optical sensors narrowed as a rippling wave of metal shot out towards it, towering into massive spikes that shot up from the floor as it approached, the Alpha level tensed for a millisecond before jumping straight up into the air an instant before the massive spines smashed into her, wings humming as she zipped upwards towards the ceiling.

[An interesting tool I will admit, the function of it is beyond me, though ascertaining its mode of operation would be my brother's job rather than mine. But still it seems that it is of little use if I but stay out of its reach.]

"Out of its reach, not even close." The boy said shouted as he slashed the cylinder upwards; a scything blade of metal shot up towards the sky towards the machine which nimbly dodged the strike but as the boy slashed it back down again the cresting wave of metal turned sharply to direct itself at the Alpha level once more, plowing through the air towards it like a silvery avalanche of liquid mercury.

Claire could see the platform visibly growing thinner and weaker as whatever the boy held used more and more atoms of metal to fuel its wave, and 0.04 dived towards this growing crater in the material of the platform as she attempted to outpace the wave, unable to avoid it since its girth now stretched out to dozens of meters wide.

"Gotcha." She heard the boy murmur though he was still over a hundred meters distant.

And with that the wave crashed down into the crater on top of the Alpha level burying it in a sea of metal. The boy waved the cylinder again and the metal ceased its fluidity, returning once more to its former shape without the slightest indication that it had ever been altered.

What on earth had happened during the time in which it had been inactivated Overwatch Ap-1i-SO wondered, nearly finished with its recompiling of the data collected during its slumber. Twelve years, for twelve long years it had been frozen in a state of limbo, much damage had occurred to its systems during this time; once its reach had extended to the entirety of the city but now in the vast majority of places its control was degraded or absent. Its eyes, those cameras around the city that once allowed it to see anything and everything were for the most part gone.

The Hawk X-1 units and a limited number of Prowler-S reconnaissance drones were all that remained active of his visual assets, elsewhere snow and ice and presumably pillaging of electronics by survivors had destroyed his surface level cameras. This meant that there was a distinct lack of data from which he could draw any conclusions. The Hawks had recorded a large amount of initial conflict; the surviving invaders had initially continued fighting with other allied troops still locked in the city but eventually this fighting ceased to occur as desperation threw all the survivors together.

Without Overwatch to keep their orders and commands up to date the surviving combat robots which crawled across the city went rampant, their individual autonomy protocols resetting to their most basic functions: eliminate all non self-type units, which included all humans, not just those that had once been labeled as their targets of engagement. These command lines had been severed while Overwatch had been out of commission; there was no way for it to regain control of these rogue robots, those machines available to it now were all that it was likely to have to work with for a long while.

Its previous orders for its own destruction had left its slate blank; it had no specific directive as to what exactly it was supposed to do, nor did it retain any significant memories of its directives jut prior to its supposed destruction, now only baseline protocols remained. Operate and co-ordinate the city, keep it running and do whatever it takes to ensure the well being of its human inhabitants. It was impossible to fulfill the entirety of this first task; Overwatch did not have sufficient control over the city to run everything anymore; only a few parts above and below the ground level seemed to still be intact on any real level, the rest of the circuits were damaged beyond repair. The other though, Overwatch might be able to complete by using its remaining eyes and intervening to assist where possible.

There was also the matter of keeping things in order; there were things, machines which Overwatch had not seen before in Aphelion that needed to be investigated. Its first attempts at observing these humanoid things had been thwarted, and one of its precious Prowler-S units lost and for little to no gain in information. The mechanical things, whatever they were had been communicating with active sound, rather than by signal transmission as Overwatch would have expected, a curiously human behavior. If these machines were actually humans within mechanical bodies then Overwatch would be required to watch over them as well, though at the moment that might prove difficult since they did not seem inclined to allow him to observe them. They were a curiosity which would be sorted out before all things were said and done. Overwatch would see to that.

The central shipyard, it was still active; that was key. A good deal of Overwatch's processing power and memory core still lay there, and its survival was what it attributed to its continued existence in spite of the fact that it was supposedly destroyed, those portions of itself still located there peered through the empty calm, the cold grey and silver metal stained everywhere by the dull rust of dried blood, people had died while it was asleep. Though this would not have mattered if it had been destroyed as instructed its survival meant that in essence Overwatch had failed at its duties. Few cameras remained, but some of the more securely placed lenses allowed it to view all of this within the shipyard.

People had been here once; perhaps they would return once more later. Overwatch would be sure to keep some of its attention and processing dedicated to watching over the Shipyard but until then it would work on determining the full extent of its remaining control. There was much work to be done and a skeleton frame had to be re-established before the A.I could rebuild its muscles in order to act.

As the boy in the tan coat brought the torrent of metal crashing down on the Alpha level the Lieutenant pulled his group away from the crowd, ushering them back out of the Holding Complex pushing through the throng of soldiers. Nobody moved to stop them, too fixated on the contained combat robot. It had been interesting to watch the boy, and see the girl's reaction and all of this technology which he had not once seen before intrigued him, but these things while flashy were not important to his main goals. Claire, the girl, had almost gotten pulled into the fighting because of that boy, and right now she was an important clue which could not be discarded; she could give in her suicidal impulses later when the Lieutenant was done with her, but for now he needed her alive to fulfill his purposes. Besides, the girl was strong and fast, and would serve well as a soldier in the future in the case that she took him up on his original offer.

The Lieutenant saw a door in the outer wall and pressed his hand to a glowing bleu plate beside it, guessing at its mechanism of action. It hissed smoothly open and he lead the group inside, the plain white walls were unadorned and all that was inside was a small table and several chairs. Strange devices lined the wall, but the Lieutenant was unconcerned with these, he needed a place to think away from the crowds, examining the curiosities that were around him could come later.

"Do sit, I need a moment to myself; do as you wish with the time but stay quiet." He said, indicating the chairs while moving into a corner to stand.

The other four slowly obeyed, shuffling over to the chairs and sitting down, by now obedience was almost guaranteed, they had stopped trying to question him. That was good, he supposed, though there might well eventually be a situation where he would want them to question him and his judgment. Perhaps he was crushing their independence a little too much; he would keep that in mind the next time they had a problem to solve. Expendables they might be, but he wanted smart and reliable expendables, not wind-up toy soldiers.

They started talking quietly after awhile, he had instructed them to stay quiet but he chose instead to ignore them; it wasn't too much of an issue to just ignore them and zone them out, he was used to thinking on his feet anyways, from his years out in the field as an Operative working for the government before the Cataclysm and all this happened. He turned his back on them and stared into the plain corner, mustering his thoughts and honing in his focus on the facts he had collected.

He was close now, he could feel it; in the depths of his mind the Lieutenant could feel that he was getting closer and closer to the truth. In fact he suspected that he had been staring it right in the face when he had been watching that machine fight against that strange more than just human boy, but the subtle details specifying just how all the puzzle pieces fit together was still just beyond his grasp.

There was much that could be observed down here in this Block, whatever it was exactly. The fact that previously he did not even know of their existence was unsurprising; though his authority was absolute and the resources available to him relatively vast, much of his time had previously been spent overseeing the general flow of day to day life and resolving or preventing internal conflicts, there had been little time for him to satisfy his own personal curiosities. Naturally when a question of such importance as the exact source of power for the Spires came up he decided to investigate; after all if power was lost then what was left of the defensive forces would be overwhelmed, those few remaining bits and pieces of technology that had survived the Cataclysm were all that was keeping the city from being overrun. No amount of small arms fire would keep out a determined machine assault, it was only the remaining automated defenses that were holding them back.

Regardless the vastness of Aphelion was beginning to become more apparent the more he explored; freed from the confines of his office quarters at Spire One it was beginning to become apparent that there were many things that he didn't know which he should have. Rather concerning really, considering that it was his job as head of the Office of Internal Affairs to be aware of all personnel activities. Now really if he had actually bothered to send a memo up to the Ruling Council they might've asked him why he was even going around investigating these matters; this was field work, and he was no field operative. Though he only carried the rank of a Lieutenant with the city's depleted command structure his rank was close to that of a senior officer; certainly his experience was indispensable.

But he didn't care, at heart he had always been more of a field operative than a desk worker, he would rather be out here risking his life then be trapped behind his desk filing paperwork with only the occasional personnel interview to add a little variety to his day. Really there was little for him to watch over, those early rebellions and plots against the council had all but disappeared as it became clear that the situation was not going to improve; those rebels who had remained after his initial work to purge them had quickly realized that it was pointless to try and overthrow the government, they were simply doing what was necessary to survive. Had they succeeded in their plots, which they indeed might have if the Lieutenant had not been around, then little if anything would be different at all, bare necessity dictated the severity and ruthlessness of the council's conduct, and their behavior wasn't even all that bad anyways. His superlative skills in the field had earned him his position of leadership, but now with all the potential for action gone it was more like a position of administration than anything else.

The girl though, had changed things for him. Her familiarity had been immediately recognizable and had prompted him to bring her in so he could take a closer look at her, standard procedure would have had her brought in to see him anyways but he took his time examining the video feed from the two soldier's helmet cams before she came in; she had been fast, at some points she had actually been able to outpace the Stalkers while on the slippery ice. Such speed was unheard of in a normal person which had particularly piqued his interest, it had made him remember things which he had not thought about for a long while prior to the incident.

Before the Cataclysm, and before even the war prior the Lieutenant had had a brother; they had not been close but he had still been aware of his interests; studying in the field of molecular physics his brother had been an excellent student and had been quite successful, much the same the Lieutenant had been an Engineer working in aerospace and was also well educated, and himself had a job. War had brought this all to a halt, and though they were conscripted together after arrival at the training grounds the Lieutenant never saw his brother again. But he had heard whispers of an exceptional soldier who had suddenly disappeared, he himself had said nothing of course but he had suspected that there was more to this than simple desertion. Skipping out on a couple of meals and rations had bought him a description of the missing soldier and the Lieutenant had been quite sure that this soldier had been his brother.

Later, he had heard rumors of a military project to produce super soldiers of some sort, weaponizing those most malleable and effected by the ideas and opinions of others: children. He himself had not approved but he had understood the necessity, at the time tensions were almost at their breaking point and he had known that war would be inevitable. That had not been what made the rumor significant to him though, it was the leader of the new project which had drawn his interest. No names were given but it was said that some sort of rising star, some new officer in one of the Black Ops cells was heading the effort, and with a little digging of his own, the Lieutenant had found more clues that this officer was again, his brother.

Claire, this girl, and this superhuman boy which he had just seen both appeared to be evidence supporting these by now ancient claims for these super soldiers; both of them were fast, much quicker and reactive than a normal human being, and from what he had observed much more resilient as well. The boy had taken a tremendous pounding and walked away relatively unscathed; the girl appeared to have exceptional eyesight; he had been watching her for awhile now and her eyes seemed to pick up details that to him and everyone else were only faint markings or blurry and distant objects. 'Eagle Eye', the boy had called her, and so it would seem that indeed she did have eyes like a hawk. All of this was but a theory of course, he had yet to find a way to confirm any of this; all he could do was speculate until he found the data he was looking for to support his ideas.

The technology within this block was spectacular, to say the least. When he had taken the post as head of the OIA he had been informed of the existence of another settlement far below Spire City, but none of the files or reports had mentioned any technology like this. In his mind, it was basically confirmed that Spire city was drawing the majority of its power from some sort of facility down here, perhaps from that machine which the boy had trapped even. It made sense; any sort of large power generation would have to have been located underground for him to not know about it. It also meant that he now had a massive security breach; if Spire city's power was linked to this lower area, which apparently was under machine siege, then Spire city could also potentially be compromised if these people down here lost. These people down here were also a concern to him on a more personal level. The OIA needed to track all relevant personnel, and just by their existence and location, these people down here had suddenly all become relevant.

There was much to be done, the question was, what exactly should he deal with first? Officially he should not have even been down here; he could give a quick explanation to the Ruling Council of what he had learned and the situation down here but it was unlikely that they would authorize a deployment of troops; Spire city's resources were stretched too thin already anyways. No, it would seem that he would probably have to work with what he had, it was time to see if he had chosen correctly when he selected the members of his little squad. He turned to take a look at them; Lanz and Andrews were skilled soldiers, had it been up to him he would've promoted them and put them in for consideration as Council Guardians long ago, as long as they recognized his authority, they would serve well and fight well. The two girls, well, they were just children really, teens armed with weapons. Both were obviously quite capable physically, and they had somewhat proven themselves on the journey downwards, but would they really be ready to join in on a war?

The Lieutenant didn't know what sort of forces these people from this "Underground" had, but from the looks of the technology he had seen he would wager that they had a fighting chance. Would he and his tiny squad of four be able to contribute significantly? Normally the Lieutenant would have said no, but the girl…there was something special about her, the Lieutenant was sure of it. If she was anything like the boy who had been in the Holding Complex, then she would be a force to be reckoned with.

With this in mind there were other things that needed to be prepared and planned out; the Lieutenant needed some information, and for that he needed to find that tech they had been speaking to…what was her name, Lillian or something? The soldiers could stay in here, but there were questions that he needed to have answered.

"Stay in here, I'm going out to get some stuff that we're going to need." He said walking towards the door.

"We'll come and escort you sir." Jeff said getting up.

"No, that won't be necessary; I'll be fine on my own Corporal, sit down and wait here with the others." The Lieutenant said.

"You sure about that sir?" Mathew asked looking up. My, they were awfully polite with him now; was it that they had given up or heaven forbid, did they actually trust him now.

"Yes, quite. Sit, stay, and be here when I get back. Defend yourselves as necessary."

"Yes sir."

And without another word, the Lieutenant walked out to get some answers.

Surprisingly, Mark recognized the model of the scattergun which was rather disconcertingly close to his nose; the M-6E was a weapon which he had been issued with multiple times before while he was in the recon group, it was a reliable and sturdy piece of equipment, and unfortunately for him more than lethal at these close quarters and no matter how incompetent its user might be almost impossible to miss with.

The barrel of another weapon poked out of the doorway leveled towards Susan and Darren who lay frozen on the floor, while Fredrick had his rifle up and leveled at their attackers just beyond the opening. The standoff could have gone on for ages if Fredrick had not prudently made the decision to say something to break the silence.

"There is a rather unpleasant creature out here which was on the hunt for food; can this wait till we're inside? If we're going to fill each other with bullets then I'd rather we do so indoors than become food for a giant snake."

"Tell me who you are and what you want first." Mark heard a woman say directly in front of him.

"Does it matter anymore? We're human, and we need a place to stay for the night or we're going to freeze to death. We don't intend to hurt you in any way; we'll only be here for tonight. You can either let us in or leave us out here to die, the choice is yours."

The scattergun hovered there in Mark's face for a moment longer before it slowly dipped down, behind him Mark heard Fredrick do the same.

"We'll talk inside, get your people in here, quick, before that Frost Viper comes back." The woman's voice came again, brisk and authoritative. Puffs of vapour curled up into the frigid air as she spoke, though her face was still masked to Mark by the darkness.

Fredrick walked over and hefted Susan onto his shoulder while Mark took a step back and did the same with Darren; both of them were out cold, whoever had opened the door had done a damn good job of knocking them out. They hurried through the doorway which shut smoothly behind them, which locked with a *click* as they did so.

Once inside they got a better look at their would be attackers, they seemed a ragtag bunch; from the looks of their living conditions it seemed that Mark and his squad had been relatively well off in terms of how they managed to get by. Two young boys who couldn't have been more than 10 stood tentatively in a corner behind a taller teen, perhaps 16 or 17 judging from his appearance. He held a heavy revolver in each hand and though he appeared thin and spidery Mark didn't doubt for even a moment that he was capable of defending himself; anyone still alive these days had to be tough and capable. The last person upon which Mark's gaze landed was a woman, perhaps in her late twenties, just from her build he would have said that she was some sort of athlete or had a job which involved high amounts of heavy physical work, but the way she kept the scattergun aimed steadily towards them to keep them covered hinted at something more.

"Point that thing somewhere else; we've put away our weapons, its time you do the same." Fredrick growled setting Susan as gently as possible down onto the floor, likewise Mark did the same with Darren.

"This is our house, our rules. I'll put the gun down when you've proven to me that you're not a threat. There's no longer any real urgency, so go on, take your time and convince me that I shouldn't take you head off." The Woman responded.

"Fine, what do you want to know?" Mark stayed silent, preferring to let Fredrick do most of the talking. He instead used the time to take a quick look around; the interior of the building, which had already seemed small from the outside was cramped and unpleasant, cold grey concrete made up the flooring and there were few if any windows. A beat up locker stood by one wall close to the door, and at another end of the rectangular main chamber a small gas stove sat beside an old beat up sink, apparently functional given the droplets of water dripping from the faucet but deteriorated none the less. An uninspiring environment, but it would do for the night, they'd been through worse before.

"Who are you, and where are you from. You're wearing body armor but the war has been over for years now, and far as I know the army left us to rot here. What the hell have you been doing all this time?"

"So, you remember the war that was going on before the Cataclysm then. You look like an athlete, but I would say…that you were a cop, am I wrong?" Fredrick said, somewhat ignoring the question.

The scattergun stayed pointed towards them, "Strictly speaking, no, I was law enforcement back then, yes, but I don't remember much of the war. I was stationed here in Aphelion for most of the war and only lived through the last few months of it here, I didn't suffer through all that much. Your attitude says and gear would suggest that you were soldiers in the army, but again, I thought they pulled out before they nuked this place?"

"22nd reconnaissance division, 3rd company fifth unit, 'Grey Team'. They sent us out on the very last day right before they made the decision to abandon the capitol, snowstorm trapped us in and they never ended up sending evac. Been stuck here since."

"I know units, and you're rather small for one. You sure you aren't some mercenaries trying to hide your vicious pasts as hired killers?"

Fredrick glared angrily, "We're what is left of the unit; I lost yet another of my men just a couple days ago on our way here so if you wouldn't mind you can stop insulting us. We're no mercs, we were soldiers through and through and we gave our lives to the service. I'll be damned if I have a cop questioning our identities."

There was a momentary lull in the conversation, until finally the woman lowered the gun walking over to the wall and placing it on the wall by the doorway. "Fine, let's sit down and talk then." She turned to the teen, "Will, show them to the dining room, I'll deal with the twins." The teen nodded and stepped forwards to meet the group while the woman ushered the two young boys away.

Will moved forwards cautiously and quickly asked for them to follow him so they picked Susan and Darren up once more and walked over into the room next over which was apparently what this small group considered to be their dining room; it wasn't much, consisting of only a scratched and battered looking table made of some unidentifiable polymer from its general appearance and a couple of assorted chairs and stools of varying heights, like everything else in the building they appeared to all have been old equipment from before Oblivion's Fall.

"Do sit, you can leave those two wherever," he said, gesturing to Susan and Darren, "Val will be with you shortly, in the meantime feel free to get as comfortable as possible...I'm sure Val will have many things to ask you." The boy was quick to move away from them to stand in the doorway once he had seen them into the room. Up close he was much thinner than he had seemed before, Mark wondered what they were living off of here.

The answer to any of your questions can be found if only you took the time to look around you. The voice came unbidden into Mark's head once again, faint whisperings in a voice that was only infinitesimaly different from his own. Was it that his self induced memory loss had affected his vocal; chords, or perhaps was it something else entirely; if Mark didn't pay too much attention he could easily have confused the voice for his own, but there was just some tiny difference in Marcus' voice, that was of course presuming he was hearing the thoughts of Marcus. Who else could it be really? Sometimes the voice seemed to bring up old memories, so it would make sense that he was hearing himself, but was there any possibility that these words had been said by someone else entirely?

Well, perhaps the voice was right; they were sitting in the dining room after all. Mark took a look around the room carefully scanning for anything of particular interest; a cabinet along the wall struck him as the probable storage place for some foods and so he stood up and walked over, he was no disappointed. Inside he found dozens of cans of preserved foods, a large amount yes but given that they had already had four mouths to feed it wouldn't last much longer. He wondered how they procured more food stocks, if they had been surviving on their own for all these years they must have found a cache of food somewhere unless this building had been hiding away a huge stash of food this entire time.

He saw something move in his peripheral vision and turned his head; Darren's fingers slowly twitched his he saw his eyes flicker open. He moved his eyes around and moved his hands to his face, seemingly inspecting his fingers for damage.

"Ok, what the heck just happened." He said in his usual dry voice, sounding more annoyed than anything as he pushed himself up off the floor. "Susan's ok right?"

"Yes, she should be fine." Fredrick answered briskly.

"You uh-" Mark began to answer his first question.

"-Got hit by our door, as you were busily discussing how best to break it down." The woman finished as she walked into the room. "Valerie's the name by the way, but you can call me Val. It'd be great if we started with your names as well, conscious members of your little party that is." She finished sounding unapologetic.

"Mark."

"Darren." Darren introduced himself somewhat woozily, rubbing the backside of his head, "Feels like there's a bump back there, was it really necessary to knock us out?"

"Yes, it was. And you sir, what's your name? You seem to be the leader of this band, why don't you tell me who you are soldier."

"Lieutenant Fredrick Burns of the 22nd mechanized reconnaissance division, leader of 3rd 'Charlie' company's 5th 'Grey' unit." Fredrick responded coldly, spitting out the words one by one.

"Mechanized recon eh, I didn't see any ride outside. No fuel, or did you just lose the damn thing."

"Lost her to enemy shell fire during an engagement during our final deployment, driver and gunner were immediate casualties. Been on foot ever since."

"I see, I'm sorry for your loss."

"You're twelve years late, we're over it and besides we're soldiers anyhow; dying is an occupational hazard, nothing more. Cut the crap and get this over with, what do you want to hear from us?"

"It's been a long time since I've met any other survivors, where are you guys from?"

"We were staying at a building we had fortified near the edge of the city until we got attacked by a Hunter Spyder, we've been making our way into the center ever since."

"How long ago was that?"

"Perhaps a little longer than a week ago, our progress has been rather slow as we met with some resistance from a couple machines, other than that though we've been on the move the entire time."

"Machines? I'd heard that some of them were still active from Claire, but she had never mentioned that they were a threat. She had said that they generally left her alone, what did they do to slow you down?" Mark looked up, Claire, why did that name sound familiar?

"Oh, these weren't just any normal Beta level combat robots, they call themselves Alpha levels. They are advanced sentient adaptive thinkers, humanoid in form and capable of thought and speech, more superhuman than robot. One of them who goes by the name of 0.01 stopped us and...we had a little talk before he decided to bugger off. We've been looking for a way out of here and it pointed us towards the center of the city, said something about climbing upwards."

"Alpha levels..." Valerie closed her eyes for a moment, "It's been a long time since I heard that term...in fact I don't think I've heard it uttered since Julie disappeared. If what she told me back then was true then their presence here means trouble."

"What do you mean? They left us alone back there, though we had to trade a little information and I've seen what they can do firsthand when they decide that force is necessary. Who is...was Julie?"

Valerie's expression saddened at the mention of the name again, "Julie was Claire's older sister, younger than me by a couple years but she was great company. She and her sister joined up with us not long after Will and I found this place to hide out, apparently she'd been caught up during the fighting in the outer districts in the last few weeks of the war, she disappeared a couple of years back when she was out looking for supplies, haven't seen her since," she let out a breath of air, "She's probably dead now to be realistic, perhaps one of those combat robots you say are crawling around outside caught up to her."

How's that project of yours going, did you contact the girl's family? Her sister didn't seem much pleased with the idea.

The voice was back again, but this time it was more a memory than a comment, it must have had something to do with this Claire Mark realized.

"Who's this Claire you keep talking about, I only saw four of you here." Mark said speaking up for the first time.

"Claire was our fifth group member, our primary forager and scout I suppose. Julie brought her here along with her when we found her, and ever since Julie…disappeared, she's taken over her role of finding supplies for us. She left a couple of days back to head out to find some more firewood and food but we haven't heard from her since."

"I see, her name sounds somewhat familiar to me, can you tell me a little about her past, before the Cataclysm if that knowledge is known to you."

"I'm sorry, but I never asked about those sorts of things. If you're curious about that then I'm afraid you'll have to ask her yourself, besides even if I did know I would have preferred that you asked her yourself for this sort of information anyways." She paused, "What makes you think that you knew her once anyways?"

"I'm not sure, the name just sounds familiar."

"No, it doesn't just sound familiar, you should know that name Mark. I thought you said that you had regained all of the memories you once lost? And besides, this happened after you joined us in the squad." Darren suddenly broke in.

"What are you talking about?" all eyes turned to the bruised rifleman.

"What am I talking about? Isn't it bloody obvious by now? That girl who jumped us all those years back when we hid from the snowstorm, her name was Elain Shaw. And the younger sister she was protecting and taking care of back then in that city edge residence was named Claire."

Thick viscous metal lay all around 0.04 kept molten by the friction of its particles rubbing against her deflectors even as the metal further out rapidly cooled and shifted to a solid state locking her within a stiff prison of steel and titanium; even as she watched the metal around her reshaped itself into a honeycomb of struts and reinforcements forming into a wild array of bars which twisted in and around her frame to lock her within.

She was certain that there were ways in which she could free herself from the prison of metal within which she lay if only she could move, but that boy, that human had made sure to engulf her entirely within this torrent of metal in order to bind her in place, molten though it was it was still viscous enough to restrict her movement for the most part and the solid beams which had formed around her meant that in spite of the friction the little material in a fluid state still surrounding her would eventually slow to a stop and solidify leaving her trapped within forever.

She admittedly had underestimated him and allowed him to spring this trap on her, but he in turn had also underestimated her as well by leaving her alive. If he had postulated that being buried in this metal cage would result in her destruction then his hypothesis would have been wrong; even without movement, without light, without anything 0.04 would still continue to function, she did not need to breath, nor did she require any form of fuel which needed renewal, all that was required for her to persist was her own will to remain. She could endure, trapped within this hunk of metal for millennium if that was required of her.

Still, it was problematic that she had managed to only just free herself recently before again being locked in another prison of metal, this time at least her power was not being drained but still it had been a frustrating six years since she had been captured by these humans. The majority of them were a feeble bunch of cowards and individually fragile but they had their advantage in numbers and their technology was on par with her very own, after all it was they who had initially created her brother 0.01. In spite of her threats the technician Edmund had been right when he had said that there was no escape for her; there had been far too many of those humans armed with those pulse rifles and they would take her down and force her back into that lightning prison eventually regardless. Unfortunately, electro-magnetic pulses had been something 0.01 never managed to defeat, no matter how much shielding he put up the pulse waves in the warheads were just strengthened enough to pierce through.

There was no escape, for some few minutes she had thought that perhaps she might regain her freedom after so many years when she had coerced the girl into opening up her prison but all too soon that hope had been snatched away from her once more. For awhile she had thought that she might soon be freed; 0.06 had come close to freeing her other sister who was trapped below, ever so close. But he had failed, the A.I which also watched over her had incinerated him, atomizing him with a spectromic particle field; the shields she possessed were unique to her and her alone, and perhaps 0.01 as well though of that she could not be certain.

Hope, was it something that she could even feel? She was a machine, cold and methodical, patient and timeless, when an eternity could pass and you could still be there standing was something like hope even necessary? Time changed all things, but time was not something 0.04 cared to experience. They had done well, these humans, creating machines which imitated human thought and life, they had completed the job almost to perfection, completed it too well. They were more human than machine; consciousness was such a terrible thing that even though physically Alpha levels such as 0.04 remained mechanical their mentalities and logics had been changed to something beyond that of a machine.

She lay there in her constraints unable to do anything but stare endlessly at the unchanging sea of metal which engulfed her, the only light available emanating from her own body and though as the Oracle she could see well beyond the physical limitations of her prison, she felt something akin to despair as all of her ideas on how to escape returned with one conclusion: failure.

Patience, she though, in time 0.01 would surely find a way to free her, she was far too important to be kept trapped down here forever. She clung on to that one vague hope in her posture of stiff stillness, unable to move, unable to act. A warrior and an Oracle, a caged thinker, an imprisoned mind, a mere whisper of what she should have been, and she waited. She waited, because that was all that she could do, a prisoner of this sea of metal, a prisoner of Oblivion.

Eric watched on helplessly as Daniel surged forwards towards the Alpha level with amazing speed, unable to do anything to stop his fellow Mapper. The machine which had been identified as an Alpha level seemed to do little in response right up until the point where Daniel was right on top of it at which point it sprang into action, the two went at it like fluid lightning dancing around each other with impossible speed.

For all Daniel's arrogance and attitude, Eric had to admit that he was as strong as he had made himself seem; the speeds he was moving at and the fears he was performing were certainly well beyond the capabilities of a normal human being, by all rights the machine should have gutted him and left him for dead by now, and yet the two persisted to fight on with neither seeming able to gain the upper hand. He was using a rather strange toolset full of objects which Eric had never seen before, the first of which was a glowing electric sword quite similar to the machine's own blades, the second a strange silver and red claw-like object which spat burning hot bolts of energy, and the last a strange rod that pulsed a soft blue on either end. The first two were unsuccessful and deflected by the machine, but the last seemed to have some sort of ability to manipulate metal as though it were liquid water.

Daniel used the tool, whatever is was, to send a wave of metal crashing down upon the yellow machine, somehow managing to trap it despite its great speed and height; as the Alpha level had somehow managed to become airborne through a set of wings upon its back. The torrent of fluid metal came crashing down once more upon the platform splashing up in a great plume sending bits and pieces of metal flying everywhere; the machine was nowhere to be seen. Slowly the shimmering mercury-like surface settled and came to a halt, ceasing it undulations and re-solidifying into the familiar surface of the platform from whence it had come as the globules of metal which had been flung afar flowed smoothly down whatever objects or surfaces they had adhered to and sank back into the ground with another wave of the glowing rod.

"Impressive, Mapper #200, very nicely done, you are truly deserved of your reputation." The male technician who had walked in with the squad of guards said loudly, stepping forwards towards Daniel. "However there is still the problem of getting that Alpha level back into that containment sphere. I'm sure that hunk of metal could keep it imprisoned in there for decades if not centuries, but we're going to need it for power. Spire City above us will not be able to function without it."

"I destroy machines, I don't heard them into sheep pens. What you're asking me to do is by far more difficult to trapping that Alpha level like I've done. Certainly it is still functional and 'alive' I suppose, but it is no longer a threat. Attempting to move it will cost lives, if you need more power then you can take more from the other Block, instead of needlessly throwing lives away just to move this monster back into that prison." Eric was a little surprised at his fellow Mapper's response, it was surprisingly...human, quite different from the cold callous attitude he gave off at first impression. He sounded almost...normal; angry, but normal.

"The city above needs power, we cannot abandon them. Without power their network will fall apart and they will be torn to pieces; the machines know no mercy and will show none. Without their protection we will surely fall as well; we cannot afford for that to happen, there are even more lives at stake there than with here. These guards are trained; they know their duty, they know what they signed up for. It is their job to put their lives on the line, who are you to deny them that right."

"I was not under the impression that they signed up for the guard corps to be ripped to shreds by a machine which would kill them in an instant. To go up against it without proper training or augmentation is utter suicide, they won't last five seconds!"

"Then you will assist them in the removal, they are merely there to assist me in the execution of the sphere's containment protocol anyways. You should be sufficient to hold it back, no?"

Daniel glared, "Perhaps, but there is still a risk. And even before I was hard pressed to keep it on the defensive, let alone contained; if you didn't notice the fight wasn't exactly clean and organized, if you move others into the line of fire I cannot guarantee their safety."

"An occupational hazard, they know the risks." Beside the tech the grey suited guards nodded slowly, stepping forwards towards Daniel the mood somewhat solemn, but none of them moving forwards with any signs of reluctance.

"I would prefer more capable help. Eric, you may as well make yourself useful, get your ass over here, you're more useful to me than these imbeciles ever will be." Daniel growled ignoring the guards.

Eric looked up, somewhat surprised. Now that, he hadn't expected; he'd seen the way Daniel treated other people, how he acted as though he was the only one that mattered or the only one who existed. He had not expected to be even acknowledged by the other Mapper, let alone be asked for to assist him. "How can I help you Daniel?" he said cautiously, not quite sure what to expect from the other boy.

"You're a Mapper like me, and I've read your file; you're capable and independent, you'll be able to take care of yourself and take care of the others. I can get that Alpha level back into the cage, but I cannot protect the guards at the same time. I need you to cover my flanks and rear, and keep the guards covered as well. Can you do that for me?" Daniel looked carefully at Eric, and he felt as though he was being judged, he shook it off quickly and thought about what he was being asked to do.

He shrugged, not reluctant to agree because he was afraid, but more because he still didn't quite trust the other Mapper. "I'll do it if I have to. What do I need to do?" he started without moving from his position.

"Here, take these," Daniel said, lobbing a pair of white spheres at him which he had unlatched from his belt. "These are Pulse grenades; when I tell you to use them, toss them at the machine, they should stun it for a few seconds which will buy you and the rest of that bunch enough time to get away from it."

Eric frowned, "What do you need me for then, any one of these guards here could do the exact same thing, I'm sure they've handled grenades before." Surely he wasn't needed just to perform such a menial task?

"They are not to get close enough that they will have the arm strength to throw those; I want them along the edges of the platform using their rifles from a safe distance to help me cordon the Alpha level, not up close and in the midst of the fray. That job is left to more capable people such as yourself."

"Fine," Eric nodded reluctantly indicating his acceptance. "Where do you want me?"

"Just behind me will be fine, I need you close enough to cover my back in case it flanks me when I'm pulling it up and out of there."

"As you wish," Eric said stepping smoothly into the spot indicated. He glanced around the massive sphere of the chamber noting the guards who were already falling into position along the perimeter then back at the floating and sparking parts of the Containment sphere that had once held the yellow Alpha level, this 0.04. The puzzle like blocks were thick things, obsidian in appearance on the inside but more of a dull matte silver-grey on the outer surface, and electrodes studded the inside shooting outwards from various places at odd angles emitting bright blue-white sparks every few seconds. "I still don't know how this sphere is exactly supposed to keep that thing constrained though," he said indicating the sphere.

"Not our concern, leave that for the techs to figure out. Right now you should just focus on helping me get that thing back inside that thing." Daniel said without turning around; he was fiddling with the rod which he had previously used to manipulate the metal now, and it was pulsing a pale amber rather than the steady blue of before.

"What is that thing anyways, I've never seen anything like it. Something the technicians made for you?" Eric asked, pointing towards the manipulating rod.

"Something like that, they said something about it manipulating magnetic fields and radiation waves or something in order to control the way in which the atoms in metal substances move, but I wasn't really paying attention."

"I see." By now, the guards were all in position; they signaled their readiness and Eric saw Daniel tense as he slowly walked over to where he had trapped the Alpha level.

"I'm beginning," Daniel said loudly, his voice echoing through the cavernous chamber bouncing throughout the sphere. "Be ready, it won't have enjoyed being trapped in there."

The surface of the platform slowly bubbled as Daniel swept the rod over above it slowly drawing up tiny strings of it which pulled skywards in long thin strands which beaded upwards until it looked as though dozens of silvery pearlescent beads were being pulled up from the floor; the slow bubbling continued until the beads twisted and turned outwards to form a ring 2 meters in diameter, and as rod drew up more liquid metal from the floor the sides of the ring became a solid flowing sheet of metal which flickered and shimmered like mercury.

[Wait, stop.] the familiar voice that suddenly hissed through the air had not been heard for a long time and for a moment Eric almost didn't recognize it until the shimmering green avatar emerged from the floor, striding across the platform, its image likely projected by some unseen emitter in the walls or ceiling.

"Katarina, what do you want." Daniel said, without turning or stopping; the curtain of metal continued to build, he was certainly taking much longer releasing the machine than he had taken trapping it.

There was a strange look in the A.I's chosen projected face that Eric could only describe as...crazed or confused, which one he couldn't quite be sure. That she had finally chosen to intervene struck him as odd, where had she been all this time during this crisis?

[Halt the removal of that machine from this surface, my subsystems have informed me of what has transgressed here and you must not let it free. It is a threat to us all that we cannot afford to let loose.]

"What are you saying Katarina, we need that machine in that generator sphere for power; the Spires above will not persist without it!" The technician Edward shouted.

[The other Alpha level will be more than able to compensate for the loss of this one, you know just as well as I do, we've both done the calculations hundreds of times, if not millions in my case. It is far more dangerous than we ever considered, if anything it should be eliminated if possible.] The A.I's normally even tone was terse and tetchy, as though something was bothering her, but what could it be; she was an A.I, it wasn't as though she were actually at risk for any physical harm anyways. Even if she was tasked with protecting the living inhabitants of the Underground she shouldn't be all that bothered by the Alpha level at all when they had already proven that they could lock one away without much trouble as was the case with 0.09. There was something missing here, something that Katarina wasn't saying.

"Why, how is this Alpha level any different from 0.09 trapped in the other Block, what aren't you telling us." Eric piped up, suspicious. He had never seen Katarina behave like this before, act so...hesitantly, give such vague answers. Something was definitely wrong.

[It is far more potent in terms of combat capabilities as I'm sure you noticed; it is stronger, faster, more resilient. And it is also impermeable to assault by any of the weapons we currently posses in our inventory; it is equipped with electromagnetic dampeners so those pulse grenades and rifles will be ineffective, it will crush you like insects. You don't have the equipment to deal with it properly if it choose to actually strain itself; the only reason you were able to trap it in the first place was because you caught it off guard, it will know your tricks now, that won't work again.]

"And pray do tell who told you all of that," Daniel asked sounding skeptical, though to his credit he had paused at his efforts to shift the metal.

[Why do you ask, do you really think I would jest on a matter of such great importance?] Katarina snapped, anger and indignation flashing in her eyes.

"No, but you've yet to give me proper and reliable justifications for why I should stop; I was initially reluctant to free this thing but the tech's here were convincing and reasonable enough with their arguments, I'd like to hear yours." Daniel snapped back.

"You seem hesitant Katarina, is something the matter?" Eric asked, a little more gentle than his colleague.

[Nothing is the matter, I gathered the information by observing some other machines and looking into some old files from before the Cataclysm, and they were clear in pointing out this machine's superior abilities. You must not allow it to escape.]

"A.I, you are not functioning properly, there should be no doubt in your mind, yet you speak as though there is. You've been operational a long time, are you sure it isn't time you came in for a systems check?" Edward suddenly broke in, looking at the A.I suspiciously.

[I assure you I am fully capable and functional in performing my duties, there is no need for a systems check to be preformed. My conduct and behaviour is within standards and procedures integrated into my core programming, any oddities you notice should be regarded as normal functions.]

"But you've never acted this way before," Eric said, nodding slightly in agreeing with the technician. "Surely something is wrong?"

[There. Is. Nothing. Wrong. With my current operational status; you are wasting time here, reseal that machine for now while we find a way to kill it.] the A.I chewed and spat out every syllable of every word as it vocalized the sentence, her voice carrying an undertone seething with rage.

"Some might even say your current behaviour resembles...rampancy." Daniel said quietly, watching Katarina carefully.

[I am not rampant! What is it that suggests rampancy tell me, wh-]

There was the sudden sound of cracking and splintering metal interrupting the A.I's raging as a dark grey mechanical fist thrust itself out of the ground and through the thin curtain of mercury, and everything went silent, all eyes on 0.04's crackling hand.

0.03 stalked through the snow and ice, his lengthy strides allowing him to cross the surface without effort. It had been a long time since he had traveled from his usual haunts; the landscape had changed drastically since his last visit to the city district within which he now stood. Once it had been a place not much touched by the Cataclysm, a central area in fact for the co-ordination and communication between groups of survivors which had been scattered throughout the remnants of the city. But now it lay broken and barren, the ground still soaked and stained with blood shed by hundreds of individuals; though a great period of time had passed the last few traces of 0.03's previous visit here had still now faded.

It was glorious really, to think that traces of his presence still remained after so many long years; yes there was little remaining now to disturb what he had left behind but still, it remained an impressive feat and was indicative of just how many people had died here at 0.03's hands. The Alpha level rolled its shoulders carefully, the damage inflicted by the frost wolves earlier had been severe but it seemed that repairs where essentially complete, there seemed to be no limitation of regular movement and operation was smooth and responsive.

He hovered between the lines of insanity and clarity, his thought processes clear but the logic not quite there, he had no motive that would give solid indication of either state at the present and so instead wandered about aimlessly, not quite sure of what exactly he was doing. Madness had overtaken him the last time he was here but even if it happened again there were no longer any people here left for him to kill.

When he had first been created he had been sane and whole, untouched and flawless, a prime example of an Alpha level if there ever was one. He knew, when he was sane enough to acknowledge himself as an individual consciously, that originally he had been normal. Something had happened to infect him with this erroneous behaviour and programming, something that must have been there from the very beginning; that he knew for sure. What exactly had happened to trigger the undetectable and irreversible change though he was uncertain of.

There was a seeming rush and the insanity dissipated once more as 0.03 returned to reality, his sanity clawing its way up from the depths of his being. He was on one of the hanger decks of the shipyard, the rumbling beneath his feet told him that activity was still going on somewhere beneath him in the depths of the earth. His insane half had come here to look for a particular human on some whim which told him that there was a debt to be paid but his current logical state said that there was little value in this interaction which would surely lead to the death of this "Fredrick", any other conclusion to their meeting would be unthinkable.

Still, there was information to be found here in the bowels of this installation though he had long ago himself killed most of the populace here; this had been one of the first areas he visited when he first felt the onsets of the madness, perhaps he could find clues as to what exactly had happened. He could have himself continue like this indefinitely, eventually his insane self would get him into a situation which he could not manage; he was an Alpha level, and even amongst them he was the strongest and the fastest but despite all of this he still was not invincible, he was tough, but not impossible to destroy. Needless slaughter cost him nothing but it was worth noting because 0.01 would not be much pleased with his actions, he almost laughed, in the end everything came back to his brother.

He too was a product of his brother's experimentation in the creation of he and his siblings, but it was humans who had always really drawn his elder brother's gaze. He was their product, theoretically inferior to the likes of 0.03 and the rest of his own creations and yet somehow he managed to function on at the very least an equal level. They were difficult to understand, and hard to predict, illogical and unreasonable, unbound by any restrictions of behaviour and limited only by their own prejudice and imagination and the limits of a flesh and blood body, in some areas perhaps they were even superior to an Alpha level. It was illogical, for an organic to be superior to a machine in 0.03's opinion, yet 0.01 had always seemed to think that this was true, that organics were better and more worthy of his studies.

He had not abandoned his creations though, 0.01 was not so foolish. Abandoned though, was perhaps not quite the correct word to use; freed would perhaps be more appropriate. Of all the Alpha level's only 0.00 was independent and free of his influence because she was not his creation, the rest like 0.03 were still controlled to an extent by 0.01. That was not to say that they were not independent; certainly they were free to act and think and move as they wished, but they were still inexorably linked to 0.01, 0.03 didn't know how but he was certain that they must be, otherwise it would be almost impossible for 0.01 to know so much about what was going on even though he had spent years underground.

They were not subservient to 0.01, but they certainly were loyal. 0.00 even, held a great amount of what could only be described as respect for her brother, of all of them only 0.03 had ever disobeyed. He had killed many humans, destroyed many machines, even one his brothers, 0.12 had fallen at his hand. Yes, he remembered now. 0.01 had sent his fellow brothers and sisters after him before to try and destroy him, but they had been no match for 0.03. 0.03 was a war machine, strong, fast, durable, and lethal, insane though he was his eyes were still keen and sharp, and his intelligence and intellect still intact. He still recognized weakness in his opponents and knew how to exploit it. 0.12 had "died" with a leg and an arm torn right off, a blistering molten whole melted through his head completely eliminating an entire optical sensor and with three crimson ion blades thrust right into the fusion reactor at his core.

Oddly enough, 0.03 recalled that he had been quite sane during that fight, he had tried to...reason with his brother, but their loyalty to 0.01 was absolute. He had been forced to destroy his fellow Alpha level in an act of self preservation, and even now he felt a little remorseful about it, when such emotions were open to him; his insane half didn't feel anything but emptiness, boredom, and casual rage which was channeled purely for the purpose of combat.

He must have found something or done something to trigger this insanity, this rampancy even, and he was determined to find it. There was a good chance that the trigger lay somewhere in this abandoned shipyard, and 0.03 was determined to find it. He could only hope that in the process he could remain sane enough to understand anything that he found. The Crimson highlighted Alpha level stood and walked slowly towards an empty but still functional elevator and sank into the depths of the facility; there was work to be done here.