“What the hell do we do now?!”
“Hey, hey! Calm down!” Spike demanded as he grabbed Austin by his shoulders.
“Calm down?!” Austin echoed incredulously, “that—! I just learned that some guy stole my face and voice and name and claimed responsibility for the attacks on SERRCom! Do you have any idea what that means for me?! I’m screwed! SERRCom thinks I’m a criminal for sure! How the fuck am I supposed to deal with SERRCom?!”
“Austin, settle down, we— we can work this out,” Twy urged, “I mean… even if they arrest you, once they get to talk with Spike, you’ll have eye-witness testimony on your side. It’ll work out in the end.”
“And if it doesn’t? How do you even know they’ll give me a fair chance, huh? For all they know, I just attacked their bases and probably killed a bunch of people! …Oh my god, SERRCom probably thinks I’m a murderer! Fucking hell, I’m fucked!”
“We don’t know if anyone died,” Spike interjected. “There weren’t any deaths from the Denver attack, maybe no one died here, either.”
“Well that’s fantastic,” Austin drawled, “so they can accuse me of ownership of illegal weaponry and tech as well as an intent to do harm against SERRCom, but at least they can’t accuse me of murder. I’m so glad! Maybe they’ll be lenient on me!”
“Hey, cut it out,” Spike growled. “You ain’t the only one in trouble here. The twins and I are Chaotics, and that dude we ran into earlier suspects it. If they come after you, it’ll only be a matter of time ‘fore they figure out the rest of us, so it’s in all of our interests to calm the fuck down and work this shit out!”
“Wait, Spike, you’re a Chaotic?” Sky questioned.
“Yeah. Discovered it earlier today. But there’s no time to explain now.” He turned to face the Chao twins and then glanced back at Austin. “So what do we do?”
“I think we should probably run,” Sky suggested. “With that video… SERRCom is probably on their way here right now!”
“And where the fuck would we go, huh?” Austin countered, “there ain’t a place on this planet where we could hide from SERRCom and their tech. They got goddamn spaceships and interstellar colonies, I mean, c’mon! You think a bunch of 20-year-olds on the run will give ‘em any trouble?!”
“And even if we did run…” Twy frowned uneasily. “We don’t have the knowledge or resources to make any real distance while at the same time keeping out of SERRCom’s grasp. We can’t use cars, because they they could track our payments. And without cars, we’re stuck with either bikes or walking.”
“Shit…” Spike scowled. “…Damn it. Well what the hell can we—?”
“OPEN THE DOOR AND COME OUT WITH YOUR HANDS OVER YOUR HEAD!”
“What?!” Austin jumped, startled, as a loud voice echoed through the apartment.
Spike quickly moved over to the front door and peered through the peephole. “…Shit,” he muttered, “…there’s a bunch of soldiers out there, and one guy with a megaphone.”
“They found us already?!” Sky exclaimed incredulously. “How?!”
“That’s government surveillance for you,” Austin muttered, his arms crossed. “…But why didn’t they just bust through the door? What are they afraid of?”
“They probably think you have more robots or something—”
“I REPEAT! OPEN THE DOOR AND COME OUT WITH YOUR HANDS OVER YOUR HEAD! I WILL ONLY GIVE YOU ONE MORE CHANCE TO RESOLVE THIS PEACEFULLY!”
“Fuck, fuck, shit.” Austin grabbed at his head in panic. “What do— what do we do?!”
“…We go outside.” Spike stepped back from the door and stretched, as though preparing to fight. “Like I said, the twins and I are Chaotics — but they don’t know that yet. Well… they shouldn’t, at least. We can try to play this out, and then if things go south…”
Twy frowned warily. “You want to try fighting a bunch of armed soldiers?”
Spike grunted in affirmation. “It’s the only option we got. Now we needa move now, while they might be willin’ to listen to us.”
“Why the hell would they—?”
“THIS IS YOUR FINAL CHANCE! OPEN THE DOOR AND COME OUT OR WE WILL BE FORCED TO ENTER! THREE! TWO! ONE—!”
“Alright, alright!” Austin burst out of the apartment door, his hands raised in the air. He paused for a moment outside of the door to take a look at his surroundings: no less than ten soldiers now had their guns trained on him, with two of them sitting behind heavier truck-mounted equipment. In the middle of the group stood a somewhat stocky light-skinned man with short black hair, holding a megaphone, as well as a tall woman with a black baseball cap and a dark complexion. Judging by their posture and outfits, they seemed to be more important than the rest, but Austin had no more time to observe the environment as Spike gave him a nudge.
“…I see you’ve got friends,” the man with the megaphone commented, lowering the device and projecting his voice on his own. The soldiers around him, however, remained unflinching. “Austin Travis, right?”
Austin paused uneasily as Spike and Twy stood on either side of him, their hands also raised. “…Uh… yeah.”
“You’re Luke’s nephew, aren’t you?” The man sighed wistfully; next to him, the woman seemed to stiffen in irritation. “What a shame… he always spoke so highly of you, you know.”
“Wait, you know my uncle…?” Austin responded uneasily. He looked the man up and down before asking, “are you… Colonel Saito…?”
“So Luke does talk about us.” Saito smirked sadly. “I guess if you know who I am and who I work for, then that makes this easier.”
“I didn’t do it!” Austin exclaimed as he frantically glanced around at the surrounding soldiers. “That, that video, that was an impostor, or something! I don’t even know how—!”
“Quiet!” Saito demanded, “whether or not you’re guilty isn’t for me to decide. For your unpermitted development and usage of weaponry in civilian environments, as well as your multiple assaults on SERRCom bases, you are under arrest!”
“Hold on!” Twy interjected and stepped forward. Several of the soldiers shifted their aim to her, causing her to reflexively flinch back. “Do— do you even have authority to arrest anyone? You’re SERRCom, right? You… you aren’t supposed to be doing anything on Earth without explicit permission from the nation in which you’re operating. If you arrest us, well, that’s illegal!”
“What’s illegal is you launching pointless attacks on our bases and injuring countless servicepersons,” the woman next to Saito finally spoke up as she directed a fierce glare at Twy and Austin. “You attacked us. Don’t think you’re getting out of this.”
“Hackett, cut it out,” Saito responded, “the girl’s got a point.” He turned back to Austin and company. “Don’t think you’re going anywhere until the local cops arrive, though.”
“Then can’t you at least listen to me? While we wait?” Austin pleaded, “I didn’t do it! I barely know how to program, let alone write AI and create entire fucking combat robots with guns! How the hell do you think a stupid 20-year-old like me is supposed to pull off two attacks on SERRCom?!”
“So you say,” Hackett replied, “but then how do you explain the broadcast where you explicitly claimed responsibility?”
“It’s — it’s an impostor. It has to be!”
“What, are we supposed to believe that you have an evil twin running around, now? We aren’t stupid.”
Austin furrowed his brow. Just as he was about to respond, however, another voice interrupted him.
Saito glanced backwards as someone ran up behind him. He stopped at Saito’s side, opposite of Hackett, at which point both Austin and Spike tensed up visibly in apprehension.
The newcomer was Mote.
“Lieutenant.” Saito nodded toward Mote. “You’ve finally arrived. Where’s the rest of your team?”
“They’re making sure that there aren’t any more ‘bots around,” Mote responded curtly. “If I understand correctly, this is the residence of the suspect…?” He trailed off as he finally turned toward Austin and Spike, his eyes narrowing — and then widening in recognition.
“Fuck,” Spike muttered under his breath.
“Hey, what the hell are you two doing here?” Mote demanded, “didn’t I tell you to stay put by the bell tower?”
“You know them?” Saito questioned.
“Not really,” Mote answered, his attention still focused squarely on Spike, “but I ran into them while chasing one of the robots. Something was off…” He scowled before summoning a massive battlehammer with an exquisite blue and silver design out of thin air and backing into a defensive stance. “I think they’re Chaotics.”
“What?!” Saito exclaimed, and then snapped his attention forwards again as Sky and Twy both jumped in front of Austin, creating shields of water and fire as they did so.
“What are you doing?!” Austin hissed.
“He figured us out,” Twy commented uneasily, “no use hiding any more.”
Austin opened his mouth to respond, but found himself speechless. Instead, he turned back toward the soldiers — who had all backed away a significant distance. Mote now stood in front, his hands and battlehammer cackling with electricity.
“STAND DOWN!” Saito demanded, this time through the megaphone. “STAND DOWN, AND NO ONE GETS HURT!”
“You’re not taking us!” Sky shouted back, “we aren’t guilty of anything! You can’t arrest any of us!”
“BELIEVE IT OR NOT, THE REST OF YOU HAD BETTER CHANCES BEFORE YOUR STUPID DISPLAY RIGHT HERE. BUT NOW THAT WE KNOW YOU’RE CHAOTICS, YOU’RE COMING WITH US, CRIMINALS OR NOT! NOW I WILL GIVE YOU ‘TIL THE COUNT OF THREE TO STOP YOUR ATTACKS OR EMERSON WILL BE FORCED TO DISABLE YOU! ONE…!”
“What do we do?!” Austin questioned in a panic.
“Only one option left now…” Spike grunted as he stepped forward and summoned a massive shield.
“We fight—!” Spike started, but was stopped as an incredible blast of electricity knocked his shield away. Thrown off-balance, he was completely unable to react as Mote raised his hand toward the group. Sky and Twy quickly fired off elemental projectiles, but Mote’s lightning was faster; a split second later, an arc of electricity jumped from his hand to Austin, Spike, Sky, and Twy, stunning them all — and completely knocking out the latter three. Austin collapsed to his knees, panting heavily as he braced himself for another attack. When none came, he slowly looked up at Mote… only to find him staring back with a mixture of incredulity and unease.
“That should’ve disabled you,” Mote growled, “are you an Electrotechnic?”
“A what what…?”
Mote’s scowl simply deepened in response. Then, without warning, he issued forth another lightning arc, striking Austin with enough force to blast him back into the building behind him. Stunned, Austin barely had time to reorient himself before Mote tackled him to the ground and pinned him.
“Colonel!” Mote shouted back at Saito, “get a CENT generator, ASAP!”
“Agh—! Argh… damn it!” Austin growled, wriggling around in an attempt to free himself from Mote’s incredibly effective pin. “God damn… get off of me!”
“Damn it, sit… still…! …What…?!”
Mote’s grip suddenly softened, allowing Austin to wriggle free. He quickly backed off several steps before turning back toward Mote… who was frozen in the air over the ground, still in the same physical position as he was when he had Austin pinned.
“The hell did you do?!” Mote demanded, unable to move his head to look up at Austin.
“I…” Austin glanced between Mote, his downed friends, and the other SERRCom soldiers. “I, I don’t know! I don’t know what’s goin’ on!”
“What type of Chaotic are you? How the hell did you resist my attack, if you aren’t an Electrotechnic?!”
“I don’t know! Just—! Damn it, leave me alone!”
“…I’m sorry,” Saito replied, having reapproached Austin. “…But we don’t have a choice. You are coming with us, and nothing will change that.”
Austin snapped his attention toward Saito, his breathing ragged from adrenaline and exertion. But just as he intended to respond, he felt a pinprick in the back of his neck… and everything went black.