Gang watched helplessly as the Machin marched past. His eyes followed an endless tide of painted steel moving ceaselessly towards the facility's entrance. The ground echoed and quaked as he attempted to study the army moving before him. While they possessed different colors, antennae, and patterns on their faces, the thing Gang noticed most were their sizes.
There were the large ones that towered over the rest, like the one that had crushed his fist. They were built with harder, more rigid metal that folded over their arms like a muscular titan. Beside them were the more regular-sized Machin. Aside from the metal across their bodies, they looked like regular people, but walked with the same relentless purpose as the rest. The third group were about as tall as the second, but had a more curved, angular appearance. As they walked past, Gang felt anxious as they glanced towards him.
Finally, Gang gazed towards the entrance and watched the flood of steel soldiers storm outside of the building, and towards the grassy hill ahead. Takahashi stood confident and alone as they strode past. If the Machin were a waterfall, then Takahashi was a rock at its cliff - secure and powerful, overlooking everything. The Machin moved around him as they march ahead. Takahashi moved for no one.
As the Machin kept coming and Gang became overwhelmed by their near infinite numbers, Takahashi turned his head and faced Gang again. He had an intensity to his stare, and a brutal authority that left no doubt that he was in charge.
"They're impressive aren't they?" he strode forward. "I knew he would make them work, but watching them march for me is a glorious feeling. It reminds me of the old days."
"Who would make them work? Coder ?" Gang asked.
"Of course." Takahashi answered. Coder hung his head in shame. "You don't think he just had the ‘on' switch do you? He created the Machin - not that we gave him much of a choice."
"That's impossible." Gang retorted, hoping to draw out information from Takahashi .
"Maybe for someone like you." Takahashi stated. "But you were asleep for a long time. Coder and I had years to spend building these machines. The Androids, Primes, and Enforcers. I couldn't picture a better way to best my enemies a second time."
Three Machin approached Takahashi , Gang , and Coder . The leftmost Machin was about Gang's size and had the build of a normal person. The middle Machin was tall and strong with muscles formed from rippled steel across his chest and arms. The rightmost Machin was also about Gang's size, but had curved edges and a smoother body. Each of the Machin had a blank screen. With a snap of Takahashi's fingers, each of the three screens lit up to reveal live feeds from Machin marching across the hill towards Nozomi.
"And we're going to watch it all happen." Takahashi stated.
Gang breathed heavily as he looked for an edge. The idea of being at Takahashi's mercy unnerved him. Working under Chaos's thumb for years taught Gang how situations like this worked. If there was an unintended hostage, it either made sense to kill them immediately, or make sure they stayed alive. It didn't matter if they tried to escape. That wouldn't change the situation.
In short, he had to try to escape.
The problem was that the only way out was through the entrance. The trail of Machin had ended, but the three Machin playing the videos stood between him and the exit. Running past them was the only option. It wasn't perfect, since he didn't know how quickly they could change from ‘video mode' to chasing him, or how quickly they could run. Then there was the question of which direction to take. Moving between them was out of the question since the large one that had crushed his fist earlier stood in the middle. The smooth Machin to the right made him uneasy, so he decided to run to the left.
He smiled to himself briefly. ‘What a strange way to die' he thought.
After a moment, he shoved the left Machin and sprinted past it at full speed. He panted and heaved and ran with the full force his body allowed him.
Each of the three Machin turned and took a step towards Gang . "Stop!" Takahashi ordered. The Machin froze in their tracks.
Takahashi walked past the Machin and watched Gang sprint away. He saw him run desperately forwards, falter as he ran out of breath, yet continue on with slightly poorer form.
"I want to watch him run." Takahashi smiled.
A short distance from the casino, Kitsune started walking back towards the hotel. She'd finally talked down Chaos' forces, and put Superior in his place, but she couldn't help but feel empty. Defeating her brother had never been her goal. They were enemies, sure, but she didn't fight to overcome him. She fought him so he would stop. Deep down she wanted him to be her brother again. Maybe that was impossible. He was too far gone. But she couldn't pretend that it wasn't what she wanted.
A short distance away, two men approached her. One wore a black tank top with an emerald around his neck and a pair of nunchucks by his side. The other wore a white gi with a bandana across his screen that held the resistance's orange circle at its center.
" Long ! Senshi !" Kitsune smiled. They waved their hands up to greet her. "It's been too long!"
"It's good to see you again, Kitsune ." Senshi answered. "You know we'd follow you into battle anywhere, but-"
"You didn't believe in Order as I did" Kitsune finished.
"It's not like it was in our Resistance days. We were clearly on the right side of history. But the Order / Chaos fight had no true heroes or villains. We couldn't fight for a cause we didn't believe in."
"And we would have fought for you. Both of us!" Long insisted.
"I understand." Kitsune nodded. "Still, it would have been nice to have you at my side."
"And we would have." Long stated. "Both of us. I...I'm sorry about the ambush."
"What do you mean?" Kitsune asked.
"You know I trained to fight as hard as anybody else back then," Long started, "But when the day came when we were supposed to ambush Superior , I just couldn't do it."
"Not everyone is suited for war." Kitsune assured.
"I know, but I should have been!" Long declared. "If that had succeeded, then you wouldn't have tried to fight him one on one, and you wouldn't have gotten captured. Things fell apart after that. The Resistance wasn't the same without you."
"Don't blame yourself for my shortcomings." Kitsune placed her hand on his shoulder.
"Just know that whenever you need me, I won't back down. Alright?"
Chem stood with his arms crossed in the casino. He stood beside Order while Chaos sat comfortably in a chair. Order glared at Chaos , who stared back with a playful grin.
"I'll ask you this one more time." Order stated. "Why did Gang kidnap Coder ?" "How should I know?" Chaos answered.
"Because he worked for you and because he's Team Chaos." Chem insisted. "He punched me in the throat!"
"Poor baby." Chaos jeered. Order kicked him in the shin. Chaos winced.
"This conversation is veering off-track." Order argued. "Here's what's going to happen. I'm going to apply gradually escalating degrees of pain until you take this seriously. Now, tell us what you know."
"Fine." Chaos chuckled, "I don't ‘know' anything, but I'll tell you that I'm only the second-most conniving person here."
"What does that mean?" Order asked.
"It means …" Chaos started, "That Witch has an agenda of her own, and has kidnapped Vine already. I'd look into her if I was you."
" Vine ?" Chem asked. "Because she punched her?"
"Like I said before", Chaos stated, "I - don't - know."
Suddenly the ground started shaking and the echo of thousands of heavy footsteps could be heard from the west side of the casino. Chem rushed to the entrance and he saw what he believed were hundreds of soldiers approaching from the horizon.
Chem cussed to himself and ran back. He'd heard stories of people in the resistance talk about Triangle Company soldiers. He figured this could only be them.
"Triangle Company soldiers!" he yelled at Order . "Hundreds of them! We have to get everybody out of here!"
The soldiers were marching towards the building from the south, towards the west entrance, so the only possible way to escape was by moving north along the outside of the building.
Chem and Order ran to the backlot where they had gathered everyone inside.
"We need to evacuate now! Follow us to the north side of the building!" Order shouted. Everyone stood stunned.
Chaos arrived a second later. "We need to go that way!" he gestured, "It's life or death you morons!"
The combined authority of Order and Chaos shocked everyone into following their directions. Everyone started walking briskly along the side of the building. Following the northeast side led them to a narrow pass where their enemies were waiting for them.
Chem looked over them in disbelief. At least fifty robots stood before him. They were about as tall as he was with smooth edges and a gaze that could only be described as unsettlingly intelligent.
"What do you want?" Chem asked them.
The closest Machin stepped forward and answered in a robotic tone, "Our prime directive is to bring you back to your beds where you belong. You've been allowed to leave your facility. Now you must return. You can come with us in an orderly fashion, or we will force you to. Do not take this warning lightly. Our armor is quite thick, and our training data is quite extensive, Daichi."
Chem was taken aback. No one here had called him Daichi. This machine clearly knew who he was. His mind started racing as he searched through his memories.
Gang had kidnapped Coder right in front of him in the middle of a conversation. If he had wanted to capture someone, anyone else would have been more convenient. Plus, Coder had been trying to warn Chem about something right beforehand - something important. It couldn't be a coincidence. Coder was involved in this somehow, probably against his will.
The robots in front of him were clearly intelligent. They had used a feint to lure them out, and any robot capable of fighting a human would require a massive amount of training data. Yes, ‘training data' was a word the robot had used. But something about this was off. He couldn't place it, but something about this didn't seem "optimal".
"I don't know where the rest of you stand," Chaos started, speaking to the crowd of people standing before the robots, "But if I stand for anything, if I've fought for anything, it's to live my life the way I want! And I'm not going in some electric coffin just because some tin can tells me to!" Chaos stepped forward, "So I'm going to fight you, you microwave oven! Show me what you've got!"
Fear stepped forward. "I'm fighting too!"
Heart stepped forward. "So am I."
Chem stood frozen and watched as each robot facing them shifted into an identical fighting pose.
Superior walked alone towards the edge of the city. He started to hear noises echo across the distance - probably more fighting from either Order or Chaos . It didn't matter. The entire fight seemed pointless to him now. He'd wanted to best Kitsune . He wanted to prove that he was superior, but he'd lost. They finally fought and he lost. He was still better at some things. He was more ambitious, more successful. To most people he would be superior. But it wasn't enough, and now that he had lost he'd have to fight her again somehow.
He reached the base of a small mountain on the edge of the city. He thought it would be the perfect place to get away and clear his head. But as he took his first step up the hill, he noticed a man through the thicket. It was an older man with white hair and a plaid shirt.
"I came down when I heard the commotion." the old man said. "Is something happening?"
" Chaos and Order are fighting each other. It's nothing new." Superior replied.
"Oh, I see." The old man looked over Superior and glanced at his expensive suit and sword. He gave a wry smile "I never made it all the way up the mountain, and I'd sure like to. Would you accompany me?"
"Alright, fine" Superior grunted, and took a step up the hill.
Kasumi and Birdcage stared down Vine , who still was still panting from her fight with Hero . The adrenaline of the fight had clearly taken its toll.
"Is she going to be alright?" Hero asked.
"I don't know." Kasumi answered.
A moment later, a cluster of fifteen robots approached the group. They were slightly taller than Kasumi and were about as large. Kasumi, Birdcage and Hero all took a step back as they approached.
"Hello" a robotic voice said, "We're from a Triangle Company organization called the ‘Machin', and we're tasked with bringing you back to the facility."
"We're not going back." Birdcage answered.
"Unfortunately this isn't optional." the Machin answered. "You'll either come willingly, or we'll escort you by force."
Hero stepped forward. "I'll handle this." he said.
"No." Vine grunted as she stood up. "They're made of metal. You can't stop them alone."
"You're too tired." Hero insisted, "You could die."
"If they plug us back in, we're as good as dead anyway." Vine raised her fists up as sweat percolated across her body.
Kasumi and Birdcage raised their fists too, but shot Vine a concerned glance.
"Fine." the first Machin said, as they moved into fighting stances in perfect unison "But don't say we didn't warn you."
Itamae grunted as he sliced meat into small slices in the back of the diner. It felt like a waste to slice meat with knives that were meant for fine sushi. He shook his head. His previous life had been one with purpose. By day, he was an in-house sushi chef for Takahashi himself. By night, Itamae was an assassin following his every command to prime the world for Takahashi's crusade. And they had won! The world was his. But Itamae had been given a second life. And as he stared at a dilapidated piece of meat in a cheap diner, he wondered why. How could this life mean anything compared to his last?
Itamae raised his head as he heard the bell chime as someone entered the diner. He stared through the small opening from the kitchen and saw what looked like robots walking through the diner. They looked about the size of a person, but they wore no clothes and were definitely machines.
"Hello." the first of the robots said to the waitress . "By order of Takahashi , we're placing you under arrest. He'll want to know what that resistance logo is doing here."
Itamae ducked his head low in the kitchen and stayed very quiet. He'd always hated that resistance logo and was glad she was finally paying for it, but more than anything, he was ecstatic that Takahashi was alive and conscious! And he had a team of robots working for him! He wouldn't expect anything less from a genius like Takahashi.
Itamae knew the citizens of Nozomi were proud and independent. He smiled as he wiped the meat from his knives.
He knew there would be a war, and knew that Takahashi would need him again.
Kitsune heard the sounds of footsteps from every direction. Long , Senshi , and Kitsune pivoted to form a tight circle with their backs to each other as they noticed dark shadows appearing from nearby windows. Large figures appeared from the sides of every building and street corner, and in the space of mere moments they found themselves completely surrounded.
Kitsune narrowed her eyes at the figures as they marched closer. They were about six and a half feet tall with large shoulders and an imposing stature. They had screens on their faces and a dark gray color across their skin. As they grew closer Kitsune saw that they were in fact robots designed for battle with hard stares and bodies crafted with layered steel.
After the robots created a large circle around the group, a single robot stepped forward and began speaking with a deep booming voice.
"Attention!" it shouted. Kitsune narrowed her gaze. Long and Senshi breathed heavily. "We are the Enforcer Machin! Return to the facility or die. You have five seconds to decide!" it paused, "ONE!"
"We have to get out of here" Kitsune insisted, "They're made of metal. My sword can't cut through them."
"Their circle around us is wide, but it's not thick. If we spring towards one side, we might be able to get out before they surround us."
"Are you in?" Kitsune asked. Long and Senshi nodded.
Kitsune sprinted towards the west side of the cluster. Long and Senshi sprinted shortly behind. The Enforcer Machin on the east side chased briskly after them. As Kitsune reached the Machin on the east side, she studied them closely. They were large with gigantic arms and hands. A single Machin could capture any one of them. She knew that while Long and Senshi were excellent fighters, they couldn't move as swiftly as she could. As she stared down the monolithic machine, she made a quick calculation in her head.
Kitsune drew her sword and dashed towards a Machin. As it reached towards her, she jumped forward, placing her right foot against its waist, then leapt upwards, spinning in air with her sword drawn. The Machin reached upwards and attempted to grab her, but her blade flashed back and forth in every direction. His hands couldn't break through. Meanwhile, Long and Senshi ran past each side of the Machin who was only focused on Kitsune. A moment later Kitsune landed on the Machin's head but dashed away before it could grab her.
Kitsune , Long , and Senshi ran ahead with a tide of Enforcer Machin chasing shortly behind.
"You two go ahead," he said, "I'll buy you some time."
Kitsune turned to Long , "That's stupid, you'll die!"
Long glared at Kitsune with his eyes fixed in place, "I'm not backing down." he insisted.
In that moment, Kitsune heard his story echo through his voice. She understood the defeat, self-blame and resolve that radiated through him. A hero's death and the refusal to back down meant redemption. And while she disagreed, she had no time to persuade him. She saw the determination in his eyes, and knew he could not be moved. In that moment, she responded the only way she could. She nodded towards him to grant him the validation he deserved. Then she turned away and kept running. She hated running from a fight. But this was a legion of robots. This was unwinnable. Senshi followed her closely behind. She knew he hated leaving a man behind, but Long left them no choice.
Long breathed deeply and smiled. The moment before the Machin pounced on him, he felt a wave on conviction and relief, as if his every anxiety had been validated. He hadn't backed down, and would be remembered as a hero. That was all he really wanted. As the nearest Machin grew closer, he reached backwards and clenched his fist. He'd never punched solid steel before. He imagined it hurt pretty bad. But he'd already decided to go out swinging, so he threw his fist forward and made contact with the Machin's chest.
The ringing sound of a crunch echoed through the city street. Kitsune took a moment to turn back.
Kitsune saw Long with his fist thrust forward into the Enforcer Machin's chest. The metal seemed to crunch around Long's fist, and the much larger Machin collapsed backwards onto the cement before him.
Long stood in shock, with his fist still held firmly in air. How had he punched a figure made of metal? How did he win?
Long heard a rush of wind as he glanced to see Kitsune standing by his side, with Senshi closely behind.
Kitsune smiled as the endless swarm of Machin formed a tight circle around them.
She readied her blade.
They could be beaten.
They had a chance.