Kitsune , Long and Senshi stood in a tight circle as a large group of Enforcer Machin surrounded them. Kitsune held her sword tight while Long and Senshi stood in firm battle stances. The Machin were unphased and marched forward with a monolithic sense of purpose. The ground beneath them shook as more Machin arrived and came closer and closer. There was no weakness to be found in their pixelated eyes - only an unfeeling sense of inevitability.
“I don’t suppose you could punch them all.” Senshi murmured to Long .
“No. We need another plan.” Long answered. “I was ready to go down with him. You didn’t have to come back for me.”
“Yes we did.” Kitsune said as she scanned through the massive crowd. “But we haven’t lost yet. If a punch takes them down, then my sword definitely will. With a crowd this dense, I can only take down half of those around me, but that might be enough-”
“For an opening?” Long interrupted.
“Exactly.” Kitsune answered as the circle of Machin closed in around them.
“By your lead.” Senshi replied.
Kitsune tilted her blade forward, making sure to align it with the joints of the three Machin closest to her. She turned her blade to the side and dashed forwards.
Superior walked steadily up the path. The dirt shifted beneath his shoes while the leaves rustled as he sifted between a pair of trees. As he carefully stepped on unfamiliar ground, he turned his head up to look at the leaves overhead. Watching them softly shift against the breeze, shining against the sunlight, it occurred to him how long it had been since he’d walked among the trees. The old man in front of him was clearly no stranger to the forest. He stepped forward with deliberate purpose, like every rock and tree was exactly where he’d expected. He was clearly comfortable here, and moved briskly for a man of his age.
“So who are you anyway?” Superior grumbled.
The old man turned and looked downhill at Superior, “I’m just an old man.” he smiled. “Who are you?”
“A younger one.” Superior retorted.
The old man chuckled, “I used to hike this trail with my sons every week in the summer. Walking here reminds me of those days.” “You grew up near the facility?” Superior asked with gruff interest.
“I didn’t, but my sons did.” the old man stared forwards. “You remind me of my oldest.”
“He used to always wear suits like yours, and hated our hikes together. We don’t talk anymore.”
“I don’t know if I hate it.” Superior stated as he looked up at the sunshine pouring through the gaps in the treeline. “It reminds me of my childhood too.” he finished in a deep tone.
The old man stared back at him and towards the eyes on Superior ’s screen. He looked over his demeanor, mannerisms and smiled at the ground for a mere moment before turning and facing back up the mountain.
“Then we keep moving.” the old man said.
Itamae stealthed his way through the city streets. His experience had taught him how to travel without being seen. Whether it was by narrow alleys or walking along city roofs, he managed to traverse the city without the robots noticing him. After a few blocks, he scaled down the side of a short building and into a familiar alley. He strode forward and noticed a familiar friend waiting for him.
“ Itamae ,” Noir started, “You’re back from work early.”
“There are robots-” Itamae blurted, “robots everywhere. They work for Takahashi. He’s back! And they’re bringing people back to the facility.”
“ Takahashi ’s here?” Noir beamed, “I shouldn’t have doubted he’d have a plan for this. I’ll head back to the facility. I’m sure Takahashi would enjoy seeing me.”
“I’ll go with you.” Itamae said. “With a robot army, it looks like he has things under control.”
“How many robots are left?” Noir asked.
Itamae paused and narrowed his gaze. “What do you mean ‘how many robots are left’?”
“See for yourself.” Noir answered. He then walked towards the far side of the alley and gestured to Itamae to follow. Itamae walked closely behind until the alley opened up to a city square. Across the dented pavement were the scattered remains of about twenty Machin. From the torsos Itamae could tell that they were over six feet tall and had large muscular arms.
Itamae solemnly walked towards their remains. He knelt down to take a closer look.
“They’re different than the ones I saw at the cafe,” Itamae beckoned Noir . “Someone managed to take them down.” Itamae leaned closer and observed scattered robotic arms and legs spread across the ground. “It was a blade.” he observed, “A long one, to make cuts this deep. And the way the parts are spread, it’s clear the attacker was surrounded. They took on all these robots at once.”
“What are you going to do?” Noir asked him.
“You go back to the facility. Tell Takahashi I say hello. In the meantime,..” Itamae glanced down at a deep cut across a Machin’s chest. He reached into his pocket and pulled out one of his throwing knives. The knife was long and had a sharp edge that glistened in the sunlight. “It looks like I have a new target.”
Order stood across from the squadron of Machin. He observed their curved shiny metal and their pixelated screens. Order preferred to square up his opponents before fighting, to look them in the eyes and predict how they’d move. But the Machin eyes were cold and unemotional. They were only pixels on the screen that could not be examined or read. He shifted his stance slightly, and noticed them responding in kind.
He held his right arm vertically and his left farm in a horizontal guarding motion. The Machin facing him moved its arms diagonally towards the space between his hands.
“They’re shifting positions!” Order shouted nearby.
“What?” Chaos barked back. He stood with his knife in hand ready to charge into war.
“They know my stances and are shifting in kind. These robots are trained fighters.” Order answered.
“Trained being the operative word for sure..” Math interrupted.
“What do you mean?” Order asked.
“I’m not an expert on AI” Math started. “but I do know something about how they work. The mathematical models have been around for over a hundred years. The reason modern AI exists is because we have the data to train them on millions of examples and the hardware to teach them fast.”
“Hardware and data.” Chem trailed off, “The Triangle Company has had a monopoly on that for years.”
“Not to mention the time we were asleep.” Order corrected.
“So what do you suppose we do now?” Chem directed at Math , “you seem to be the expert here.”
“Oh, well it’s not really my field.” Math stammered, then looked at the squadron of Machin before him. “But they’re only as good as their training data. If you show them something they’ve seen before, they’ll beat you every time. If you do something different however…”
“I get it.” Chaos smiled, “It’s all randomness - chaos” he turned his head and chuckled at Order . “It’s like I told you before, street fights have no rules.”
Chaos turned back towards the Machin and charged forward in a fit of blind rage with his blade in hand. The tide of Machin collapsed in around him. Chaos thrust his arm forward and shoved his blade through a screen. “Is that a picture of a stoplight, you tin can?!” he shouted.
After a moment, Fear rushed forward, and Heart soon after, thrusting their fists and arms against the line of Machin. Their breaths were quick and their arms were thrown about haphazardly. Chem and Order stood motionless however. They froze at the sight of the many Machin standing before them. How could they hope to defeat them - an army of machines that were smarter and stronger? Even Chaos , with all his bravado, began to struggle against the iron tide.
Chem began to glance at Order , his eyes were ablaze with fear and hesitancy. Then, before he could let out a word, he was startled by the sound of clashing steel over his shoulder.
Chem saw Chaos , Heart , and Fear struggling against seven Machin huddled around them, but the sound of violent clashing could be heard further back. The sounds of metal hitting the ground repeated moment after moment. As Chem’s sharp eyes spotted the tip of a blade through the cluster of Machin, he sighed with recognition. As more of the Machin collapsed and their line began to thin, Chaos saw Kitsune , Long , and Senshi emerge from the crowd with only a few Machin remaining. Senshi thrust his arms forward and took out one Machin by hitting his joints until it collapsed. Long took out two more with spirited punches to their chests. Then only one Machin was left standing. Kitsune slashed forward with her sword, but it parried her blow to the side. She thrust forward several more times and it managed to block each of her attacks. Kitsune breathed a quick breath and readied to attack again, but Long elbowed it from the left, and Senshi chopped across its right side, and the broken husk collapsed to the ground.
Kitsune took a deep breath and withdrew her sword. “It appears we weren’t the only ones to be attacked.” she said.
"What do you know about these robots?” Chem asked. "They knew my real name. I haven’t told anyone my name since I got here."
"Ours called themselves 'The Enforcer Machin'." Kitsune answered, "They were very tall and strong. These were different."
"There’s something going on here." Chem insisted. "Something about this doesn’t add up."
Hero threw a firm punch and knocked a Machin to the side. Kasumi and Birdcage stood behind him and shoved away the five Machin that swarmed around them. They each managed to hold one off, but the three that pulled against their sides were pulling them off balance. Vine , who stood beside Hero , punted back her fist and knocked two Machin down with one punch. Vine knocked down two more, then grabbed her knees and took a deep breath.
“You need to get out of here.” Hero said, “I can take them. Just go.”
“That’s because-” Vine breathed, “I’m here.” she breathed again. “You need me.” Vine paused. “Wraaaaugh” Vine bellowed at the Machin and punched down two more, then paused again. Hero punched forward with long thrusts at the remaining Machin. He aimed to keep them at a distance, but they were beginning to surround them fast.
Around the corner of the building, Key and Hero peeked around the corner of the hotel. They saw Kasumi , Birdcage and Vine from Team Chaos fighting alongside Hero from Team Order. A large group of robots, not much bigger than Kasumi, surrounded them.
“We need to get you back inside.” Key said to her.
A moment later, Jiro stepped outside of the hotel and yelled towards the fighters, “What’s going on? Is Vault with you? I don’t know where she is!”
“Get back inside!” Hero shouted back.
“Uncle!” Vault yelled, and dashed towards the door.
Suddenly all of the Machin froze in place. They pivoted their heads towards Vault and followed her intently. Hero knocked out one more Machin, then froze, bewildered by what was happening.
“Priority target.” he heard one Machin utter.
Each and every Machin sprinted towards Vault , completely dismissing everyone else around them. The tight perimeter they formed around the fighters evaporated as they sprinted towards the girl who froze in fear.
Vault ’s scream was muffled behind the storm of Machin grabbing her arms and legs, then rushing to carry her away from the hotel. They formed a tight perimeter around her about four Machin deep. They rushed away quickly and for a moment, Hero considered pursuing them. But a second later, they were several yards away running faster than any of them could run.
“ Vault !” Jiro yelled after her. If she heard him, he couldn’t tell.
Vine sat on the ground and began gasping for air again.
“We have to go after her!” Key insisted.
“Not with Vine we can’t.” Kasumi insisted. “We need to take care of her.”
“We can’t not rescue Vault . She’s too important.” Key argued, careful not to say too much.
They began to see a man come up over a hill. As they each began to recognize his face, each person turned down their head and shook their head in dismay.
“It looks like you met the Machin.” Gang said, breaking the silence.
“Go away.” Hero said back. “We don’t need you here.”
“Actually, I need you. Nozomi needs you.”
“I’ve heard that from you before.” Hero stated. He walked up to Gang with his chest out, standing almost a foot above him. “I’m tired of your schemes and your tricks. I don’t want any part in them.”
“I get it.” Gang shook his head, “You all have plenty reason to hate me. Fine. Cuss me out if you want, but hear this. I was just … with Coder at the facility. Takahashi himself is there. These ‘Machin’ are his, and he’s trying to plug everybody back in again. And Coder - he made these things. He’s the only person who can turn these things off.”
“I wouldn’t mind introducing Takahashi to my fist.” Birdcage said, “But why should we trust you?”
“Because I’m telling the truth…” Gang shrugged, “I have nowhere else to go. And for some reason,” he sighed, looking at the ground. “I really need your help here. I wish someone cuddly and likable was here to back me up, but it’s not. It’s just me. And I need your help. We need to save Coder . This is the only way this ends.”
Hero took a breath and shook his head. Kasumi glanced up at Gang and remembered the brief conversation they had. “I think he’s telling the truth.” Kasumi said. “I feel it.”
“Is Coder with Takahashi ?” Jiro asked.
“He is.” Gang answered.
“Then I’m coming with you.”
“It’ll be too dangerous.” Hero said, “And honestly, I don’t think you’d be much help.”
“My name is Jiro Takahashi .” Jiro stated. Everyone around him paused and held their breath at the weight of that statement. “ Vault is his daughter, my niece. He’s a terrible father and I don’t want him anywhere near her. We need to get her out.” he turned to Hero. “Let me talk to my brother. I have some choice words to say to him.”
Hero nodded, then turned back to Gang . “If this is a trap, I’ll do to you what I did to Stonks.”
“Who else is coming?” Hero asked.
“I’m coming!” Key said right away.
“We need to get Vine somewhere safe.” Kasumi said to Hero . “She needs to rest. I grew up on a farm nearby. I think that’ll be a safe place for her to rest.”
Hero nodded sympathetically at Vine . “I think that’s for the best.” he turned back to Gang . “Lets move.” he said.
Gang took his first steps back towards the facility while Hero , Key and Jiro followed closely behind.
Takahashi smiled watching the screen of the Prime Machin standing in front of him as hit projected footage of Kitsune slashing forward with a sword and breaking the connection.
“She was always a tough fighter.” Takahashi observed, “It wouldn’t be a fair fight without her here.”
Coder sat helplessly beside him. He watched the screens with a trace of hope, but two squadrons wasn’t anything against an army of ten thousand.
The sound of marching could be heard from outside the facility, and Coder felt a spark of hope, then realized no Tamashi would march that loudly.
“Ah” Takahashi smiled at Coder , “The Androids are back! You’re about to meet someone very important”
As a group of Androids marched through the entrance, with marks and dents from a recent battle, they began to spread apart and reveal the small girl crowded at its center.
She looked towards the tall man in a dark suit, with a television screen of dark obsidian obscuring his face. Although she did not see his face, no one could match the dark imperious tone he inflicted on the space around him.
“Father.” Vault whispered.