“Wow… look at that! It’s amazing!”
“I dunno… we’ve seen better.”
“Oh can it, Pierce,” Phoenix retorted before turning back to gaze through the giant, wall-spanning window in front of her, and at the majestic view below: the planet Earth itself, seen from just over three thousand kilometers high. Deep blue oceans, verdant land, and wispy, white clouds stretched across the planet’s surface, contrasting sharply with the darkness of space that served as a backdrop. From this high altitude, the battle with EA seemed almost trivially insignificant — though not just due to the sheer scale of the Earth. A SERRCom Frigate slowly drifting into view served as a reminder of the space station’s true purpose: to defend Earth from interstellar attacks, and to watch over the planet from on high.
Pierce shook his head and stepped off to the side to make some distance between him and Phoenix. The room in which everyone currently stood was about the size of a conference room, with a table and chairs to complete the look, as well as a handful of small potted plants and generic abstract art in what was clearly an effort to create a homey feel. As far as Pierce could tell, this aesthetic presented itself all over the space station, coupled with the same kind of artificial windows as the one next to him, wherein the display was actually a holographic projection of the space station’s exterior — thereby allowing the station’s inhabitants to see the Earth from places and angles where they otherwise couldn’t. Phoenix, as well as almost everyone else who had been traveling on the Corvette, was currently standing against the large artificial window and marveling at the view, but Pierce remained on edge. Despite all appearances, they currently stood inside of the Space Defense Station Opportunity, a massive space station in middle Earth orbit that served as SERRCom’s secondary headquarters. The station was a military platform, first and foremost, and Pierce refused to let himself think otherwise.
Pierce glanced off to the side, where Mote was standing next to a door with his back straight and his arm bent in a salute. Next to him was a shorter, stocky man, with black pants, boots, and jacket, as well as a somewhat scruffy face and short, dark hair.
“At ease, Mote,” the man replied as he dropped a box on the table. He then raised his voice to address everyone in the room, saying, “hey, listen up! I have some translator headsets here. All of you should grab one.”
“Translator headsets?” Sky echoed cluelessly, “what for?”
“You’ll see,” the man replied, at which point his attention turned toward Pierce, Phoenix, Conrad, and Kestrel. “…So these are our new faces, huh?”
“Who are you?” Pierce questioned.
“I’m Colonel Kaji Saito, the commanding officer of Chaotic Support Fireteam-1,” the man replied, moving toward Pierce with his hand extended in an open gesture.
Pierce simply stared down at Saito’s hand, his own arms crossed.
“…Alright, then.” The Colonel pursed his lips and withdrew his hand. “I guess I should’ve expected that.”
“When can we go home?” Conrad asked.
“That…” Saito sighed, his gaze turning downward for a moment. He then shifted his attention back to the four. “…There’s a discussion to be had, there. But you should grab a translator headset first.”
“Why?” Phoenix pressed.
“Just take one.” The Colonel grabbed two headsets out of the box and thrust them toward Pierce and Phoenix. “At least hear what the General and his guests have to say before we get into this.”
“Okay…” Phoenix frowned and gestured for Conrad and Kestrel to take the headsets instead. “Well, Pierce and I already have translator implants, so we don’t need a headset. Right?”
Saito stared at her in surprise. “You do? How?”
“We spent the summer on a different planet, as part of the ETAA outreach program.”
“Oh… right, I’ve heard about that program. The two of you must be pretty smart, then.”
“Ah, it’s no big deal.” Pierce shrugged, though the subtle smirk on his face belied his true feelings. “I just try my best, that’s all.”
Saito smirked back, but offered no further response. Instead, he retreated to the front of the room and rose his voice to address everyone again. “Everyone have a headset?”
“We do,” Twy answered.
“You still haven’t told us what it’s for,” Sky said.
“Honestly, I’m not a hundred percent certain myself,” Saito replied. “I know the guest is Nimalian, and they’re important, so you all had better be on your best behavior. But beyond that, your guess is as good as mine.”
“But whoever they are, I won’t tolerate any of you giving SERRCom a bad reputation,” Mote declared. “I will punish any misbehaving.”
“Let’s not go too far, Lieutenant,” Saito quickly interjected.
“Sir.” A tall woman with a dark complexion and the same uniform as Saito peaked her head into the room. “They’re here.”
“Thanks, Hackett. Alright, everyone!” Saito clapped his hands. “Let’s put on our best faces!”
Pierce watched in irritation as the Colonel stepped away from the room’s entrance, followed by Hackett as she properly entered the room and held the door open. Mote and Mark both moved to stand at attention on either side of the door just as a man with a large frame strode through. The man’s strong jawline, full mustache, sharp, attentive eyes, and his decorated navy blue jacket radiated the aura of an experienced commander; it didn’t take much for Pierce to figure that this man was General Matthew Lead, the commander of all of SERRCom. As the General stepped into the room and then stepped aside, however, Pierce noticed several other individuals that he didn’t recognize. Two SERRCom soldiers stepped in and took up positions in the room’s corners, where they stood at attention, followed by two more soldiers in green uniforms that took up positions in the opposite corners. Finally, three more individuals — two men and a woman — entered the room, at which point Hackett closed the door and stood at attention just in front of it.
Of the three unknown individuals, the man standing in front seemed to be the most important, and by far the oldest. He possessed a thin frame and an average height, with a light complexion and sharp cheekbones. Short, graying hair covered his head, and on his face was a goatee of similar coloring that tapered down into a point just above his collar bones. When coupled with the faint, yet still evident age lines on his face, he appeared to be around fifty or sixty years old. Everything about his face gave off the impression of a wizened elder, but the man’s clothing seemed comparatively odd; he wore what appeared to be a three-layer shirt, with a single-shoulder sleeveless brown shirt on top of a short-sleeved white shirt, on top of long blue sleeves. His pants were blue down to the knees, at which point they became a rocky gray, ending just above a pair of dark brown boots.
Standing to the man’s left was a taller man with a similar complexion and short black hair. His clean-shaven face made him appear significantly younger than the man in front of him, and his clothes seemed more put-together, consisting of a thick green jacket that wrapped part-way around his chest and extended down past his belt, a leather-like sash, black slacks, black boots, and a green sort of half-cloak that attached to his belt rather than his shoulders and extended down to his boots. The woman to his right possessed a similar uniform, though in blue, and in place of a sash she wore a blue shawl. The similarities ended there, however; her skin was olive-toned and she wore her black hair long and wavy. Furthermore, her height was significantly shorter — in fact, she was easily the shortest person in the room, barely reaching five feet tall.
“…Who are those guys?”
Pierce glanced over at Conrad, who had just whispered into his ear. Slowly, he turned back to face the front of the room as he muttered in reply, “I don’t know. Apparently they’re Nimalian, but…”
“I have a bad feeling about the older man,” Phoenix interjected quietly. “I don’t know why, but he’s bad news.”
“Huh?” Pierce passed her a confused glance. “Why’s that—?”
Pierce turned back toward the front of the room, where Mote was glaring at him. But before Pierce could make any kind of response, General Lead began to speak.
“I see that everyone’s here,” he began, his gaze slowly sweeping across the room — across Austin, Twy, Sky, Spike, Kestrel, Phoenix, Conrad, and Pierce. He offered a curt nod toward the latter four as he continued, “I would like to have proper introductions, but our guest today says that his mission is of the utmost importance. And given the… oddity of the past two months, I’m inclined to agree.” Lead looked over at the older man, who returned the glance before turning to stare at Austin. After clearing his throat, the General continued, “allow me to introduce the leader of one of Nimalia’s five great nations: Pallan Culana, the Archoné of Riverana.”
“Thank you, General,” the old man replied, slowly bowing his head. He then turned to look each of the eight conscripts in the eye. “…So these are the new Earthian Chaotics?”
“Uh… hi?” Austin replied uneasily.
“Hmm…” Pallan affixed Austin with his gaze. “…There is something I would like to verify. You are Austin Travis, correct?”
“Huh?” Austin stared back in confusion as all eyes in the room fell on him. “How do you know that?”
Pallan simply responded with a knowing smirk before turning his gaze on Pierce. “And you… are Pierce Bradley, yes?”
“I don’t suppose you’d believe me if I said ‘no’,” Pierce retorted.
“Certainly not when you answer like that!” Pallan replied with an amused smile, and then gestured for Austin and Pierce to step forward. “Approach. There is something I would like the two of you to try.”
Austin and Piece exchanged uneasy glances as they slowly stepped forward, coming to stand on opposite sides of the conference room table.
“What’s going on, old man?” Pierce questioned.
“A test,” Pallan replied. “Now. I want the both of you to hold your hands out, focus… and attempt to summon a weapon.”
“A weapon?” Austin echoed, “what are you talking about?”
“When I say a weapon, I mean, a weapon,” Pallan reiterated. “You know, like your Eximius Vir. They can summon weapons, yes?” He glanced back at Mote and Mark. “Correct?”
Mote looked over at Colonel Saito, who nodded once in response. The Electrotechnic then silently held his right hand out, into which a massive battlehammer appeared, wreathed in extravagant blue and silver designs.
“Exactly.” Pallan nodded once and turned back to face Austin and Pierce. “Try that.”
“You want us to just pull a weapon out of thin air?” Pierce retorted, “what makes you think we can do that?”
“Yeah, I was only able to do it once, when I was right next to someone else who already had!” Austin added.
“I don’t know if you can, which is why I’m asking,” Pallan countered. He then looked left and right, his gaze sweeping across everyone in the room. “You must realize that nothing about your situation is usual. I am not aware of any cases of Chaotics developing their abilities in adulthood, and furthermore, if the reports I hear are correct…” His gaze settled again on Pierce, who returned the stare uneasily. “…Some, if not all of you, were able to use your powers during the recent Chaos Energy Quake.”
Pierce’s uneasy expression rapidly collapsed into a scowl. What the hell? Is he talking about the skyfall on Ainminthalus? How does he know about that?! Is he bluffing?
“Now, I will ask you once again.” Pallan clasped his hands in front of him. “Attempt to summon a weapon.”
“You…!” Pierce’s lips curled, his hands clenched as he glared at Pallan with unease. But then, in the corner of his eye, he spotted Austin holding out his hand; quickly, Pierce held out his own, and began to concentrate. I don’t know what’s going on, but I’ll be damned if I let that loser discover some new power before me! Now c’mon! Let’s summon a weapon!
With his hand held out, Pierce focused intently on the air around his hands. He’d witnessed weapon summoning in action before — he had seen Mote make copious use of his hammer during the fight in the skies over the San Francisco bay, after all. In those instances, summoning the weapon didn’t seem to be a difficult affair in the slightest, so Pierce simply tried his best to concentrate. For a moment, nothing happened… but just as his brow began to furrow in frustration, a glowing light appeared in his right hand. The white light promptly gave way to a curved blade, around a foot in length, with a dark blue orb set in the bottom of the blade. Extending out of the orb was a dark gray handle, as well as a glowing cyan energy tether that continued to extend through the air for at least two meters before ending in another handle just over his other hand. The second handle possessed a dark blue and gray design, appearing vaguely similar to the hilt of a rapier — except attached to a long energy tether instead of a blade.
Pierce whistled in amazement as he inspected the weapon he now held in his hands. Some kind of… whip weapon? With a blade at the end? Weird… but now that I think about it, there’s a lot I could do with this and my superspeed…
“Wait… this is the same sword as before! What the hell?”
Pierce glanced to his side, where Austin stood — now with a blue and golden claymore in his hands. Damn, we both got one…
“How very interesting!” Pallan remarked, drawing Austin and Pierce’s attention back to him. He then looked back at the man and woman standing behind him. “Well, Densalin? Yumach?”
“Yeah… those are the Arcán and Hastryth weapons, alright,” the woman declared.
“Chaos Energy Detect,” the man called out, and then shook his head a moment later. “There are no Ayas nearby, either. Weird. I guess you were right after all, Archoné.”
Pallan nodded once as he turned back toward Austin and Pierce, a knowing smile upon his face. “Indeed… it may be twenty years later than hoped, but at long last, the Keys to our future have finally appeared.” He bowed his head toward them as he held his hands out in an open, welcoming gesture. “The galaxy entrusts you with its survival!”
Silence befell the room as everyone began glancing between Pallan, Austin, and Pierce in confusion. Austin and Pierce themselves stared back in utter bafflement; after exchanging a brief glance, they each had only one thing to say. In unison, they replied…
THE END of Chosen Hidden
TO BE CONTINUED in Return of Chaos…