Chapter 23 – Beat Down

«Epsilon… make them regret choosing to go against me!»

As if in acknowledgment, the large robot bobbed once before beginning to lift into the air. Immediately, Pierce rocketed forward and slammed his foot into the robot’s chest, knocking it backwards through the air as the contact point shimmered a brilliant gold. Figures it has a shield, he thought bitterly as he landed on the ground and prepared to launch another attack.

Chaos Armor! Chaos Strike!

A bolt of purple-tinted lightning struck the robot, lighting up its shields once more. Pierce offered but a brief glance back at Phoenix, who had launched the attack, before turning his attention back to the robot. That’s right, she has to declare her attacks… what a weird power that is—!

He cut his thoughts short and doubled-back toward his friends as the robot whipped its guns toward them and opened fire, launching two massive bullets across the room. The first bullet impacted Phoenix, shattering the purple-tinted armor that covered her body and flinging her backwards; the next bullet nearly hit Kestrel, but Pierce managed to intercept it with his superior speed and knock it away.

“Ungh… Chaos Armor…” Phoenix muttered, struggling to climb to her feet as another set of translucent purple armor appeared around her body. “Shit… Pierce, we need you to run interference!”

Pierce glanced her way with an indignant scowl, prepared to argue her demand, but before he could, the robot zoomed into close range. He quickly whipped around and launched a supersonic kick at it, successfully knocking away one of its arms as it tried to grab him — only for it to fire both of its guns at him instead. At point-blank, it was impossible for Pierce to dodge, and so he was flung across the room where he tumbled to the ground in a painful heap. Repeated shouts of “Chaos Strike” reached his ears, followed each time by a flash of purple light — and then a distressed yelp from Phoenix as the robot lunged at her and slammed its fist into her armored chest. Pierce jumped back to his feet and leaped at the robot again, kicking its arm away as it wound up another punch — though before he could strike again he felt the air around him begin rushing past, as though a fierce wind had kicked up. Reflexively, he jumped away from the robot in confusion, until he spotted Kestrel out the corner of his eye — and how her hair was violently whipping around. She then thrust her arm toward the robot; Pierce could feel the winds rapidly change direction as a seemingly invisible force began to push the robot back. Ah, right! She can control air, or wind, or some shit. That’s not too bad. …Wait, where’s Conrad—?

Chaos Cannon!” Phoenix shouted from the back of the room, causing a small projectile of purple energy to burst forth from her outstretched hand and streak through the air at Mach 1, where it slammed into one of the robot’s legs and knocked it off-balance. Pierce instantly seized the opportunity to dash forward and slam into the robot’s other leg, toppling it over — though it immediately flapped its massive wings once and launched itself into the air, while simultaneously shooting out its arms and grabbing Pierce off of the ground. With a scowl, he began fighting against the robot’s grip on his torso, but it was too strong for him to beat. So instead, he began kicking fiercely at the robot’s arm, hoping to jackhammer its shields away as he had done to dozens of EA’s other robots. However the robot quickly reached over with its other arm and began trying to grab Pierce’s feet, forcing him to focus more on keeping out of grasp than on kicking its shields — until a fierce downward-blowing wind began forcing the robot to lose altitude. Its wings began beating even faster and harder than before as it fought against the winds, while simultaneously turning its guns on Kestrel. Seeing this, Pierce quickly swung his feet back to wind up for a kick, and then slammed them into the robot’s side, jostling it just as it fired its weapons — and therefore causing it to miss Kestrel.

In response, the robot raised the hand that was holding Pierce into the air and then chucked him at the ground hard — so hard that the metal flooring under him dented and partially buckled. He reeled from the pain, his eyes wrenched shut and his mouth turned down into a pained grimace as his ears rung, drowning out the sounds of the room around him. What felt like several seconds passed before he was able to get a grasp of his pain and force it out of mind, at which point he snapped his eyes open and attempted to stand. Above him hovered the robot, though its attention appeared to be focused on Phoenix and Kestrel as the two women launched attacks at it and ran circles around it in an effort to evade its attacks. It’s not focused on me… good. Pierce momentarily glanced down at himself to try and assess how injured he was — only to realize that he couldn’t see any of his body. What the—?!

“Pierce!” An urgent whisper reached his ears. “Be quiet! Or it’ll know we’re here!”

“It probably still does,” Pierce countered, instinctively looking around for Conrad even though he knew he wouldn’t be able to see him. “We haven’t even moved from where it threw me at the ground!”

“…Well, yeah—”

“Now let me go so I can keep attack— wait. Wait, no, I have an idea!”

“Uh oh. I don’t like the sound of that…”

Chaos Strike! Chaos Cannon! Chaos Cannon!” Phoenix shouted from across the room, firing projectile after projectile at the robot. The purplish lightning strike and the first cannon shot hit the robot square on its chest, but it managed to dodge the last shot as it flew to the side and then fired its guns at Phoenix. One of the shots was blown off course, but the other hit Phoenix right in her armored shin and knocked her leg out from under her, sending her collapsing to the ground. She quickly rolled to the side to evade more gunfire before jumping to her feet, calling out “Chaos Armor” to refresh the protective surfaces all across her body. “At least I can take a hit, but so can that damn robot…” she muttered under her breath as she watched Kestrel continue to manipulate the winds around the robot, forcing it to constantly adjust its flight speed and path. “Chaos Strike! Chaos Strike!!” Phoenix called out twice more, launching two bursts of lightning at the robot, only for both to be blocked once again by glimmering golden shields. “Shit. Pierce! I need you to… Pierce?” Her face scrounged up in confusion as she swept her gaze across the room, failing to spot either Pierce or Conrad in the process. “Pierce! Conrad! Are you there?!”

“Just keep attacking it!” Pierce’s voice replied from somewhere within the room. “I have a plan!”

“Of course you— agh!” Phoenix threw herself to the side as the robot suddenly dived at her, slamming into the ground where she had stood barely a second prior. It immediately whipped around and lunged toward her, attempting to stomp her into the ground with its massive feet as she focused intently on evading each footfall. “Ah— shit—!” She scowled as the robot managed to back her into a corner, its fists raised over its head as it prepared to slam them down on top of her. With gritted teeth, she crouched down into a defensive stance, and then — just as the robot’s arms began to swing down — she shouted out, “Chaos Deflection!

A spinning spherical shield of Chaos Energy appeared around Phoenix’s body just in time to deflect the robot’s blow, throwing it off-balance in the process. The shield dissipated a second later as she raised her hand toward the robot and opened her mouth in preparation to launch another attack, but before she could, the robot staggered to the side as its left flank lit up brilliantly, as though it had just sustained a fierce blow. Barely a second later, it suffered a similar blow from the opposite direction, and then a third. Just as its shields lit up under the impact from a fourth blow, however, the robot lunged forward, grabbed Phoenix in one of its massive hands, and then launched itself into the air again, where it hovered in the center of the room with its gun held to Phoenix’s head.

Before the robot could act any further, however, Phoenix irately called out, “Chaos Deflection!!” A spinning, spherical shield of Chaos Energy again briefly appeared around her, this time knocking the robot’s gun away and forcing it to release her from its grasp. As the robot reeled away and Phoenix began to fall to the ground several meters below, Kestrel launched herself forward, manipulating the air and the winds around her to reach Phoenix mid-air and catch her in her arms. The two exchanged a brief nod before Phoenix turned her attention back toward the robot and continued attacking with another two calls of “Chaos Cannon” — and then her eyes widened with surprise as, immediately after her second cannon shot hit the robot in its arm, Pierce appeared in the air next to the robot and slammed his knee into exactly where Phoenix’s cannon shot had hit. What followed was a brilliant display of golden light, succeeded by a visual static fuzz around the arm that had been attacked.

“The arm’s shield is down!” Pierce shouted as he dropped down to the ground, “Phoenix—!”

“Got it!” Phoenix shouted back, and then looked up at Kestrel, who still held her in her arms. “I need an angle on that arm!”

“Mm…” Kestrel glanced up at the robot and offered a curt nod. The robot seemed to be focused entirely on Pierce as it attempted to unload the entirety of its ammunition into him, allowing Kestrel to silently move through the air to its other side, where the exposed arm was. Just as Phoenix began to reach her arm toward it, however, it noticed the two women and immediately spun around to shield its exposed arm with its own body.

And then, a second later, the sound of shearing metal echoed through the room as Pierce launched himself straight into the robot’s exposed arm, clearing the distance between the ground and the robot in a split second and using his sheer momentum to completely blow the limb off of the robot’s body. The force from the blow sent the robot into a spin, and just as the sparking remnants of the robot’s now-exposed shoulder joint turned toward Phoenix, she acted. “Chaos Cannon!!

In a fraction of a second, a purple projectile emerged from Phoenix’s outstretched hand and streaked through the air, slamming into the robot’s exposed shoulder — and then tearing straight through it and into the robot’s internals. A burst of light emanated from the hole in the shoulder, as though from an explosion, which was followed immediately by a brief visual static fuzz covering the robot’s entire body. Without wasting a moment, Pierce leaped up to the robot again and slammed his foot into one of its wings, this time successfully connecting with the bare metal and destroying the wing joint at the same time that Phoenix destroyed the other joint with another cannon attack. The robot immediately plunged to the ground below, where it barely managed to catch itself — just in time to intercept an incoming kick from Pierce. His eyes wide with surprise, Pierce was little able to react as the robot grabbed his foot and slammed him into the ground, stunning him. It then whipped around and hurled him at Phoenix and Kestrel; the latter managed to slow him down with a steady wind, but he still slammed into the two women uncontrollably and sent all three tumbling to the ground.

“What the—? Agh!!” Phoenix grunted in pain as the robot charged forward and stomped on her. Her Chaos Armor protected her from the blow, but immediately disappeared afterward as the robot lifted its leg for another stomp. Pierce quickly launched himself at the robot in an effort to intercept the attack, and managed to blow the robot’s leg off through sheer kinetic energy. But as the robot collapsed to the ground, it simply swung its two guns toward Pierce and opened fire, the launched projectiles flinging him clear across the room. Once more, the robot began turning toward Phoenix, but one final call of “Chaos Cannon” produced a projectile that ripped through its chest plating and obliterated its optical sensor. A follow-up supersonic stomp from Pierce destroyed the remaining intact portions of the robot’s internal machinery, successfully stopping it in its tracks.

“Damn robot…” Pierce scowled as he glared down at the metallic wreck before him. “Doesn’t even know when it’s beat.”

“At least we got out of that alive,” Conrad commented, suddenly becoming visible just beside Pierce. “Things were looking rough for a while…”

“I’ll say,” Phoenix muttered, gingerly rubbing her shoulders as she approached the wreck. “For our first fight, though, I don’t think it was too bad. But…” She began looking around the room. “What now—?”

A flash of light engulfed Pierce’s vision, completely blocking out his view of the large room. When the light subsided a moment later, he found himself once again standing in the shielded cell, with Phoenix across a walkway from him, and Kestrel and Conrad off to the side.

“Not bad, not bad. Better than I expected, honestly.”

“You—!” Pierce snarled, his attention snapping toward EA as the villain sauntered into view from the side. The Velocitechnic lunged for EA, only to reel back in pain as he slammed into the energy shield blocking him from the walkway.

“Just what do you want?” Phoenix demanded, prompting EA to turn toward her. “What was the point of that fight? We won, but now what?”

“That depends,” EA replied. “Are you willin’ to work for me?”

“Dude, you just sent a giant robot to attack us!” Conrad exclaimed, as Kestrel nodded in agreement. “We almost died!”

“Yeah, this is not how you convince us to join you,” Phoenix declared.

“If you don’t let us go now, then we’ll do to you what we did to that stupid robot of yours,” Pierce threatened.

EA sighed. “I figured it would go like this. Well…” He turned his attention upward. “Athena! Round 2!”

«Understood,» replied a robotic voice.

“Wait, what—?!” Pierce started, but was interrupted as a bright flash of light once again filled his vision. Immediately afterward, he found himself standing in the large room again, with Phoenix, Kestrel, and Conrad all standing at his side. The corpse of the robot they defeated was no where to be found, however — instead, it was replaced by a dozen smaller robots, all appearing to be the same model as the robots Pierce had fought in San Francisco and near the dam.

“Oh, you’ve gotta be kidding me,” Conrad groaned.

“I’ve destroyed more of these robots than there are right here, you know!” Pierce shouted irately, directing his voice up at the speakers in the ceiling. “Do you honestly think this will be a challenge?!”

«This might not be,» came EA’s response over the loudspeakers, «but round 3 might. Or round 4. Or even round 10!»

“This is ridiculous…” Phoenix eyed the robots warily. “You… what are you trying to do here?!”

«Like I said earlier: if you don’t fight for me, then you fight against me. So until you decide to join me, you’ll be fightin’ my robots — over, and over, and over. And don’t think that you can exhaust my supply — I came prepared. I can do this all day.»

“I don’t care what you’re prepared for, you megalomaniac loser,” Pierce countered. “We’re never going to give in to your stupid demands. Send as many robots as you like, we’ll destroy them all!”

“Pierce, c’mon, man, don’t provoke him…” Conrad muttered.

«It’s too late for that,» EA replied as the robots across the room began whirring to life. «Elites, engage!»

“Well, here we go…” Phoenix pursed her lips apprehensively as the four engaged in battle once more, using their powers to the best of their ability to destroy the robotic threats before them.

*     *     *

Several Hours Later

“Well, huh. I have to give you guys credit; I didn’t expect you to last this long.”

“Hmph…” Pierce grunted in response, a deep scowl across his face, but he didn’t respond any further. He simply approached the walkway outside of his cell and kicked at the energy shield preventing him from leaving, all while glaring at EA. Exhaustion was beginning to set in — physical exhaustion, from several straight hours of fighting, and mental exhaustion, from the slow realization that EA might truly not be bluffing. Pierce, Phoenix, Conrad, and Kestrel had destroyed over a hundred robots between them at this point, robots of varying sizes and armaments, robots that could fly and ones that couldn’t. Pierce, Phoenix, and Kestrel had each repeatedly shown that in a one-on-one confrontation, they could easily defeat EA’s robots — and Conrad’s invisibility was a useful support ability. But against the constant onslaught of EA’s apparent army, they were beginning to lose. For now, that merely meant a variety of cuts and bruises, but if they were forced to keep going…

“How long are you going to keep this up?” Phoenix questioned wearily. “How long… how long are we going to have to fight robots? Why can’t you accept that we want nothing to do with you?”

EA passed Phoenix a blank stare before looking down with pursed lips. “…Luckily for y’all,” he eventually said, “I’ve had enough for today. It’s gettin’ late. I’ll have some food and water sent down to you, and there’s a toilet behind the back wall of each of your cells. You had better eat and rest up, because we’ll be doin’ this again tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow…?” Conrad echoed uneasily.

“You fucking loser,” Pierce snarled. “You just can’t accept the reality in front of you, so you try to force your own way onto others. What a fucking lame-ass thing to do!”

“I think it’s y’all who can’t accept the reality in front of you,” EA shot back, and then turned to glare at each of the four friends. “You all lost the ability to control your fates the moment you became Chaotics,” he declared, “be it me, or SERRCom, or someone else — someone will always be after your power. Someone will always force you to submit to their will.”

“Bullshit. We’ll find a way out of this! And when we do, I’ll make you fucking pay for this!”

“Heh…” EA chuckled bitterly as he slotted his hands into his pockets. “…I wish I could still have that kind of hope. But the fact is, you will never return to your normal lives. SERRCom was already on to you before, and as it is, your only escape from me is gonna be through them. And I think we both know that the moment they have you in their hands, they won’t let you go. Fakie and his friends are proof enough of that.”

“You… you can’t know that,” Phoenix countered uneasily.

“Oh, but I do.” EA passed her a knowing glance before turning toward the room’s exit. “Ultimately, it’ll either be me, or SERRCom that you’ll be servin’. Those are your choices. You had better choose while you still can, or someone else will choose for you — and don’t think that there’s a third option. Millions of Chaotics across the galaxy have tried to defy conscription in one way or another, and not once has it worked out for them.”

“That’s… that’s bullshit,” Pierce shot back.

“If only it was,” EA replied with a bitter smirk. “But you had better get over it now, because your days of being beholden to only yourselves are over.”

With that, he stepped through the room’s exit and allowed the door to close behind him, leaving Pierce, Phoenix, Conrad, and Kestrel to contemplate their fates alone in their cells.