AN: It has been a little over a year since I last updated this story which is far too long to make someone wait for a final chapter and this is indeed the end. Nothing else will be posted after this, your waiting is over if you bothered to stick around at all and I wouldn't blame you if you have moved on. So what happened to me? Why did I suddenly drop off the map? TLDR depression stinks and it sucks all the life and joy out of everything. I'm feeling a bit better now but it can still be a daily struggle. But I finally did it! I hammered out this chapter and I hope that it satisfies some of you at least. I did the best I could to show what happens with the world and to show where G.U. is going and what happens with everyone, but at the same time I didn't want to spend 10 pages showing what happens to each character. I hope I struck the right balance as this chapter is over 11,000 words.
Thank you to those who have read and to those who have still stuck around! I could not have done this without your patience, support, understanding, and gentle prompting on tumblr asking me when I was going to post the nice chapter.
So to catch you up on the story: Aihane went to his old friend and they called him an idiot and made a (temporary?) alliance with G.U. Meanwhile all of his AIDA fragments and Fidchell, Tarvos and Gorre escaped and found their way to Ren and Kisho who were sitting tight in London. Aihane got pissed off and put all the plans that he could into motion all at once trying to carpet bomb London and other cities a tactic that was stopped thanks to Chigusa's Assassin machines. Aihane also captured Aura but she was then recaptured by G.U. only to find that she was dying, her data literally chewed up. Then Aihane was captured, Skeith absorbed Aura and promised to find a way to bring her back before going off and slugging it out with Corbenik. During the battle Skeith forced Corbenik to reset the network which made everything grind to a halt. Now everyone is waiting around to see if it worked like it was supposed to.
Just like last chapter this is a list of all the Assassin's and which Epitaph's they are modeled after.
Death Reaper = Skeith
Noia = Innis
Servanus = Magus
Tenebris & Lucidus = Fidchell
Atlas & Titan = Gorre
Syrakis = Macha
Hikari = Tarvos
Chaos = Corbenik
Timeline update: Mid October, Japan
Chapter 19: A New Day Dawns
Kuzma Lavrenti leaned back in the plush rolling chair and flicked open his lighter with his thumb. After a few clicks a flame popped up and he lit his cigar. He inhaled deeply and then let it out slowly, breathing a cloud of smoke towards his captive. Aihane coughed and choked as he woke up. Immediately he pulled at his wrists but they were securely bound behind his back and there were ropes higher up his arms and around his legs as well to ensure that he couldn't escape anywhere. Standing calmly behind him was Carlos who adjusted his cowboy hat a bit before smoothing out his mustache. A second later he walked over and checked the camera that was set up and currently filming them before going back to his spot behind Aihane and leaning back against the wall. He had a taser and pistol holstered on his hips as extra security.
"Look at who is finally awake. Not that you've had much choice. We had to sedate you otherwise you likely would have tried to escape. Failed of course but tried nonetheless. We can't have you hurting yourself before your scheduled execution after all," Kuzma said puffing on his cigar a bit more. Uncrossing his legs, Kuzma leaned forward wrinkling his crisp black suit a little. "Make sure to smile for the camera. G.U. is watching. Not live but they will be getting this as a recording in short order so try not to be too dour would you?" he picked a small hair off Aihane's dirty shirt and flipped it away.
"What... what are you doing? You've had me in here for... for weeks now. I'm your friend. Your partner! I'm trying to create a world where humans and artificial intelligence can coexist. If things continue on like this then humans and artificial intelligence... artificial life forms like the Epitaphs will either destroy us or end up causing their own destruction. Something must be done! This is for the good of everyone!" Aihane screamed wildly at him, pulling ineffectively at his restraints while doing so.
Kuzma sighed heavily and tapped the ash from his cigar into an ashtray on the small wooden table to his right. "We may have been partners once but we were never friends. Those in positions as I rarely allow ourselves such luxuries. I'm far too wise and far too rich to believe that anyone who gets close to me is simply looking to get to know me better. I may be old Borislav but I am not senile," he commented enjoying his cigar. After a moment he continued, "Besides you have far outlived your usefulness. So much talent gone to waste on frivolous dreams and grand fantasies," he added with a snort. Aihane flushed and strained again against his bonds in anger.
"You are a fool to believe that any one man could go about the way you have without being checked at some point. Did you honestly think you would get away with this? No one person or group of people alone could change the world in such away without someone else rising up to stop them. This isn't some science fiction novel or entertainment show. This is reality and you have evidently lost touch with it. Those young tech heads over in G.U. have a far better sense of where this world is going then you ever did. They aren't seeking to control the Epitaphs, instead they work with them and the Avatar's have responded to that. Grown and blossomed under the caring eyes of their partners. By treating them with respect G.U. has won over the loyalty of these synthetic beings in a way that your idea never would have. Did you think that by enslaving them they would just turn around and thank you for your protection?" Kuzma asked, disbelief coloring is voice. Tapping the ash off his cigar he put it back to his mouth and silently stared Aihane down.
"Did you know that the plan up until some weeks ago was simply for our two groups to avoid each other? Xing Bei, Carlos over there, myself and the others of our little group were all in agreement with Rhodesia and Niketas from G.U. We leave them alone and they leave us alone. No need for anyone to get in the others way. Then something surprising happened just over a week ago. All of the Epitaphs approached us personally to offer a compromise. They too wish for a world where humans and A.I.'s or synthetic lifeforms as they no doubt will be known in the future, can coexist. However, for them to truly learn about and understand humans they must be allowed to interact with them. Unfortunately for them humans can be a rather skittish lot and G.U.'s influence may be growing but it is still not quite enough. They requested our help... well our money and influence mostly. A formal and officially written joint partnership between us, them, and G.U.," Kuzma explained a fond smile spreading across his lips as he thought about it.
"You see the Epitaphs can be rather childlike in their understanding at times but the catch is that they realize it. They know they are still woefully uneducated when it comes to some of their dealings with humans and if they, the most advance synthetic beings on the planet know that then what does that say about all the lesser A.I.'s being tested in customer service centers or fielding requests online? Their numbers are going to grow and if they do not understand the humans they are living with and who are using the network then we are going to run into another serious crisis sooner rather then later. The Epitaphs already have G.U. firmly behind them but they need the support of others if their plan is to work. Either by agreement or by force. None of them have any qualms about manipulating others to the benefit of the many but they also realize that more legal means are preferable and longer lasting," Kuzma drew on his cigar and blew the smoke in Aihane's face making him cough and sputter.
"That is where we come in. Legally G.U. is now in charge of all advanced artificial intelligence and can dictate how it is or is not to be used. This includes robotics and machines. Of course there is a certain intelligence standard that must be met but that's not the point. That law just barely passed but it and the resulting loopholes it created were enough to allow Chigusa to plant her machines in a various metropolitan areas around the world and have them operate of their own free will. Now that the news networks and some major channels are back up you can turn on any broadcast and watch as three robotic dragons fly around the London skies coordinating rescue, clean up, food delivery, road repair and even capture those criminals who bombed the place and then tried to escape. Werewolf-like robots stalk the streets and drones patrol the skies preventing crime and coming to the aide of those in trouble. While officials first screamed in horror with cries that a robot apocalypse was surely incoming, cities around the world are now practically begging for the same as their own justice systems prove woefully inadequate or far too harsh in their methods at controlling the chaos and meeting the needs of the people. I find it delightfully amusing myself... but you know the best part?" Kuzma leaned forward in his chair.
"These machines are learning. Chigusa and Innis, the creators of these fascinating machines and the synthetic life forms that operate them, has sent over a the graph showing how they viewed different aspects of humanity and social structure before and how they view them now after having had direct and sustained interaction with human beings for a few weeks. I must tell you the shift is so dramatic that I had to review it several times and shared it with the others of our group to verify its accuracy. Even the news networks have picked up on it. The more these beings interact with humans the more understanding and empathetic they become towards us. That fact alone is starting to shift people's opinions which is unquestionably vital, but it is the laws we must affect and change if further progress is to be made. That is where our support comes in. Too bad you won't be there to see it Borislav," Kuzma nodded to Carlos who walked over and grabbed a headset from a table behind the camera tripod.
"Sure we could just let the authorities handle the matter but as I said before... I'm rich and you've already corrupted so many politicians that the world governments will be stuck just dealing with that for years before they ever get around to even trying to throw authority figures from G.U. behind bars. Which won't work because they've covered their tracks very nicely. That woman Rhodesia is a genius I tell you and those kids are fortunate to have her and Niketas as their allies. Look at me getting off track again. The point my dear Aihane is that I have neither the time nor the patience to hand you over to the so called 'proper authorities' and wait on them to punch it out and decide what of hundreds of counts to actually convict you on. By the time they decide I'll be dead and my riches parceled out. Besides the Epitaphs made it quite clear that you belong to them and I would really rather not have to get on their bad side. I would rather like to hang on to my final years of life thank you very much," Kuzma waved over Carlos who smirked and roughly slapped the headset down over Aihane's head.
"Wha... what are you doing? Don't do this to me! We can figure this out!" Aihane fervently demanded as Carlos rolled his eyes and pressed a small button on the side of the slim headset to turn it on. An orange light on the side flickered on and blinked rapidly before turning to a slow blinking green light and then a steady blue on as it connected to the network.
"Don't worry though. Our fair world will manage to get along and repair itself quite well without you around to mess things up even more then they already are," Kuzma took a deep breath and nodded in finality. "Goodbye... Borislav Cedomir."
Everyone in the room visibly flinched as Borislav Cedomir, known more commonly to them as Aihane, let loose a soul tearing scream and started thrashing back and forth until he pulled the chair over onto its side. His body shook violently as his screams intensified until they were finally cut off sharply and unnaturally. A moment later Carlos reappeared on screen and reached down to touch Aihane's neck. He waited a few long seconds before nodding and standing back up. Kuzma put his cigar down on the ash tray and looked deliberately into the camera.
"Justice is served as they say. The Epitaphs wanted him and none of us were about to deny them. As for what they did... well I would think that you are in a better position to answer that then I am wouldn't you? Either way Borislav Cedomir is dead and his body will be cremated. Best to be sure about these things. While I have no doubts about your Avatar's abilities it would not be the first time someone I helped to get rid of mysteriously rose from the dead. Until next time G.U. I look forward to our future partnership together. A partnership that would not have happened had your Epitaphs not approached us about it. Do thank them for me," Kuzma said with perfect calmness as if the death of a former colleague didn't bother him at all. In all actuality it probably didn't.
Ryou shuddered and felt Chigusa curl closer to him with a shiver of her own. He grabbed his cappuccino and took a long swig to try and cover up the bad taste the video left in his mouth. Major infrastructure like power, water and major news networks came back up within the first week of the Network Crisis. Phones were still spotty though and text messages could still end up being delayed by hours or days. Airplanes were severely restricted with some people getting priority while everyone else had to wait and pray that they would get a call that a seat was open and the plane going in the general direction they wanted. Food and other material deliveries had resumed although some luxuries were very limited or all but impossible to find. Ryou had manage to grab three cappuccinos this morning, one for Chigusa and the other for him and the last for free simply for being nice to the cashier after the guy in front of him got pissed off. He got them only because he had been willing to stand in line for two hours waiting for the shop down the street to open up. It was worth every second of waiting around too.
Now Ryou took another sip to try as he tried to figure out how he felt about this. His hand reflexively went up to the side of his head where he still had a scar from being shot by Chigusa's stepdad. Everyone else looked disturbed as well. Rhodesia tapped the display on the table and shut off the video. For a while everyone was silent until Kaoru spoke up.
"Well what else did everyone expect? We already knew that the Epitaph's were never going to let him live after everything he did to them. Macha was ready to chase him down and I know Skeith and Innis were out for blood after he nearly got Ryou and Chigusa killed," Kaoru said running his fingers through his long bleached hair.
"I know, I know its just... its still weird actually seeing it happen like that. What did Skeith do to him? I mean that was Skeith right?" Tomonari asked hesitantly. His short hair was now dyed green and gold after Magus. Kisho had convinced him to be bold and get it done. Likewise Reiko had died her long hair in shades of pink and purple after Tarvos. Even Chigusa had cut her hair short and dyed it in Innis colors and had even gotten a nose piercing. The new more punk-ish look was courtesy of her brother and sister's influence had really boosted her attitude and self-confidence all of which Ryou thought was pretty hot.
"Yes that was definitely Skeith along with Tarvos and Gorre's help. As for what he did he basically overloaded Aihane's brain until it just... melted down and took the rest of his body along with it. I would rather not get into the details. He's dead and we finally have a chance to rest and really recover. For a little bit at least. I know there's still a lot we have to do," Ryou explained noticed Reiko's silence. She knew what had been done to Aihane's brain as well and her expression likewise said that she would rather not dwell on the gruesome details.
"True is that. More busy now than ever. Much there is for G.U. to answer for but wait a few days that can. Want everyone to take two weeks off I do. No arguments. Spend time alone, with each other, with the Epitaph's... doesn't matter. Just no work, understand?" Rhodesia commanded giving them all a firm glare. Ryou certainly had no problem with that although it might be harder to drag Chigusa away from her precious machines. He loved that she enjoyed working and engineering so much he just wished she would stop to breathe every once in a while.
Niketas nodded in agreement and stood up.
"Everyone is dismissed for now. Be good, try not to get into any trouble and if someone ends up in a life threatening situation then call someone other then me or Rhodesia. I plan on taking two weeks off just like you all. Do not call me unless the world is threatening to fall apart again," Niketas said adjusting his shades before pointedly taking his phone out and turning it all the way off. Rhodesia rolled her eyes at him.
"Be checking in occasionally I will. Have your Epitaph call me if something important you need," Rhodesia said gratefully accepting the fancy cappuccino that Chigusa leaned across the table to give her.
With the meeting thus concluded Reiko and Tomonari walked out together discussing something about the current state of affairs and how network recovery around the world was going. Tomonari had been trying for a while to ask Reiko out to dinner or something but had finally gotten the hint that she wasn't interested in dating anyone when she unequivocally put her foot down. Technically she said she was not interested or available "right now" and emphasized that point. Tomonari had backed off since then and as a result they had been getting along a lot and had become closer friends. Niketas for his part got up and walked out with a noticeable bounce to his step. Ryou went to stand up but stopped when Chigusa grabbed his arm and leaned over to speak to him.
"Macha says that Kaoru has been meaning to speak with you. I'm going to go upstairs and see if I can get a good connection so we can talk to Kisho and Ren over in London and tell them the news," Chigusa explained as Kaoru shot a glance over their way. Rhodesia was busy fiddling with something on the table's display screen.
"Okay see you up there in a minute," Ryou said watching her walk out. As expected Kaoru came over shortly after and Ryou walked out with him. He stopped shortly down the hallway which was empty save for Chigusa's retreating form.
"You needed something?" Ryou asked curiously as Kaoru stood there playing with his hair and glancing back towards the room.
"It's pretty apparent that Rhodesia... has feelings for me," Kaoru began awkwardly although Ryou silently thought that he was being awfully conservative with that choice of words. Rhodesia certainly wasn't being forceful but at the same time she had made it all too clear that she liked him.
"Did you want advice?" Ryou hesitantly suggested and Kaoru nodded slowly while staring down at his shoes.
"I've only ever loved Macha and I still do but not like... not like that and back when I did it was hardly a healthy relationship. I can realize that now. She is my friend and my closest companion still and she thinks Rhodesia would be a good match for me but I... I'm not sure what to do about it. I don't like going out or doing fancy things," Kaoru said with a grimace. While he had come far and opened up more he was still very introverted and only ventured out when he had to. Ryou thought about that for a moment wanting to choose his answer carefully.
"The person you care about should be your best friend. Someone you can trust and confide in more than anyone else," Ryou began trying to come up with an analogy that Kaoru could relate to, "And obviously best friends like doing things together right? Think back to your time in The World. The first version where you were Elk and played with that version of Macha all the time. Sure you went on big adventures and quests right? But you didn't do that all the time did you?" he asked watching as Kaoru lifted his eyes and considered that for a moment.
"No... sometimes we would just wander around collecting stuff or just sit and watch to see what other players were doing," he said thoughtfully.
"Exactly. Sure in a relationship you certainly want to do things together and making big plans is fine, but you don't do that all the time do you? Think of when you have a best friend. Someone you're really close with. Sometimes you plan big trips and go out to fancy places and other times you just sit around watching the latest show on the network or play video games together. You know Rhodesia is a reasonable person and she would never force you to do something you're not comfortable with. Why not start small and then work your way up? If she really cares about you then she'll be patient right?" Ryou asked as an idea came to him. Kaoru usually had food from the kitchens or one of the in building restaurants above city level delivered to his room rather then having to go out.
"She loves documentaries doesn't she? Why not order something to eat and watch a show together. Then one day when you're feeling up to it you could go to one of the restaurants at city level upstairs. Pick a time when its nice and quiet and there won't be as many people around. I think she'd like that," Ryou suggested feeling pleased when he saw Kaoru visibly perk up at those suggestions.
"I could do that. She mentioned the other day how much she wanted some sushi. I could get some seafood for her and something vegetarian for me. But... don't girls like flowers?" Kaoru asked looking worried again.
"Some girls like flowers, some don't. I've seen you making origami once before. Why not make one of those and give it to her? Something from her native country to remind her of home," Ryou offered and Kaoru thought for a moment and then nodded.
"I could do that. I can do that. Thank you, Ryou. You have been a very good friend to me," he said shaking his hand gratefully.
"And hopefully I will be for years to come. Our work isn't done here just yet," Ryou reminded him before stepping back to let him go. Kaoru took a deep breath and headed back into the conference room. When Ryou leaned around to peek inside he could see Rhodesia still in there looking up something.
Well aren't you smooth? When did that happen? Must have been my influence, Skeith's voice sounded in his head. Ryou snorted and turned to go back up to the room he now shared with Chigusa.
Excuse me? You? Smooth? You must be talking about someone else. Besides aren't you supposed to be working yourself? Repairing the internet and all that from the damage that was done? Ryou asked as he stopped at the elevator and pressed the call button.
All the major infrastructure is back in place and fixed like new. Smaller connections are reforming thanks to Corbenik's influence but it will still be another week or so before the smaller nodes and websites on the internet start seeing more stability. Besides weren't we told to take some time off? Epitaph's deserve a break as well. Besides I have a party to get to. We're welcoming Corbenik back into the fold so to speak. You're invited too by the way so try not to be too late, Skeith responded as a chime sounded and the elevators doors opened. Ryou stepped inside and hit the number for his floor.
So it worked? Corbenik is healed? Really and completely healed? Ryou asked as the doors closed and the elevator smoothly went up.
More or less. The corrupted data was purged from his system and he is finally the way he should have been with Xen's AIDA data perfectly integrated into his own systems. Mentally he still has a lot to recover from. Corbenik has been put through a lot. His body may be stable but his mind needs time to heal. The same goes for Fidchell, Gorre and Tarvos. Being enslaved to Aihane has not been easy and G.U. is almost completely different from how it was when they first left. They will need time to settle in and your support along the way. It would not surprise me at all if their trust in humans was stretched thin right now. You'll have to be patient with them, Skeith explained.
I'll make sure to keep that in mind. If there's anything I can do to help just let me know and tell Shino and Masato I said hello. Hopefully we'll be able to get them back on dry land sooner rather then later, Ryou added. Rhodesia had filled them in on everything that had been going on with Shino and Masato and it was a pretty crazy ride for them as well. Right now they were safe out at sea on the carrier ship and had enough food to last them for years. Technically both of them were still wanted for various criminal charges that the G.U. legal team was working hard to clear up. There was no doubt that they could absolve them of any wrongdoing and provide evidence that they were innocent of any crimes but it would take time. As soon as things were ironed out they would be back in Japan and here at G.U. Apparently both of them had readily agreed to join. Ryou looked forward to seeing his former friend and mentor again.
Until then however there was something else that he had to do. Time to tell Kisho and Ren the news. Good thing they were still sitting over in London with their hosts so Ren couldn't throttle the two of them.
"You got married?!" Ren shrieked so loudly it made the computer speakers squeal and buzz in protest. Beside her Kisho sighed and rubbed his forehead. Skype was back up although they were having serious load problems from all the people making new accounts and trying to contact their families. It was one of the few services currently up and (somewhat) running so it had attracted a ton of new business from those still having trouble with their phones or other internet services. They had managed to get a stable enough video connection for them to call their little sister, Chigusa back in Japan. Although there were flights running again, Rhodesia had requested that they stay in London for the meantime until the skies cleared more. So for the moment they were helping to oversee relief operations here in London. They had just started the video call when Chigusa blurted out the news.
Ren gaped at the computer screen in shock as Kisho nudged her chair and then finally just pushed her out of the way, letting her chair roll off to the side. For once she didn't fire back a sharp comment as Kisho leaned forward and stared at Chigusa who was blushing a vibrant shade of red while Ryou sat there beside her. He had one arm around the back of her chair and was uncomfortably rubbing the back of his neck with the other as he stared somewhere off-screen.
"Married? No ceremony? No white dress? I mean I could have put white streaks in my hair and worn my nice long floaty skirt and everything," Kisho said with one eyebrow raised curiously. Ren snapped out of her stunned daze and clawed her way back over in front of the computer screen nearly knocking Kisho clean out of his chair as she pulled her own back over. Slamming her hands down on the table she blurted out the first thing that came to mind.
"Oh my god you're pregnant!" she said in horror and Ryou who had been taking a sip from his cappuccino snorted and choked. Chigusa pounded him on the back until he found his voice and sputtered out a reply.
"No, she is not pregnant! We never... well I mean at least not until we got..." Ryou fumbled around as Kisho grinned at him.
"Awww you waited until the wedding night. That's so sweet."
"That's not the point!" Ryou shouted back and Chigusa sighed and interrupted the two of them.
"Would you listen for a minute!" she cut in with a frown on her face. Ren scowled and settled down as Ryou looked away again.
"This is like the fourth network crisis we've been through. We've seen people stuck online, die online and in the real world, Ryou got shot at by my adoptive father and would have been killed by him if not for Skeith's intervention, I nearly died myself not long after that because of Aihane and AIDA, we've all risked our lives in dozens of other ways and there's no telling what might happen in the future or what we might have to deal with next," Chigusa sternly told them as a reminder. "I just..." she paused for a moment and looked over at Ryou who was now sporting a rather embarrassed blush of his own despite his crossed arms and dark scowl.
"I just don't want to wait anymore. I don't want to put things on hold because I'm afraid of what might happen or what we might be asked to do or what crisis must come up next. I want this. Besides Ryou's improved a lot over the past year. I know he'll treat me right," she added as a teasing smirk started to pull across her lips. All of them knew that Ryou could be quite the romantic but he only showed that side to Chigusa. Ren leaned in closer to the screen and pointed her index finger in warning.
"You had better treat her right because if you make her shed so much as one frustrated tear I'm going to break your kneecaps, understand?" Ren threatened and Ryou rolled his eyes and put his arm back around Chigusa.
"Don't worry I'm not going to let anything happen to her. Not again," Ryou promised and leaned over to kiss her cheek. Chigusa blushed this time only to have Kisho ruin the romantic moment by unceremoniously shoving Ren out of his way.
"You had better make sure of that," Kisho added then paused for a moment, "Are you sure you're not going to have a ceremony anyway? I've really been looking for a reason to wear that skirt..."
"Ryou and I will think about it. Now don't we have other matters to discuss right now?" Chigusa interrupted with a slight frown as she tried to get the conversation back on the track it was supposed to be on in the first place. "How is..." she stopped and blanched, "How are both of you doing?" she offered up instead. She was of course referring to Ren and her current medical condition. Albeit in a more roundabout way.
Glancing over across the room, Kisho saw that Ren had left and was once again reaching for her pill bottles so she could meticulously count out each and every pill. She had been doing that several times a day ever since the attack here on London.
"You already know that stress can aggravate her schizophrenia and things have been pretty crazy around here, but we're doing pretty well compared to many of those in the city. Our hosts have been very gracious and have expressed more interest in helping to support G.U. Staying busy helps keep both of us occupied. We'll be okay. This is nothing we can't handle. I'll make sure she stays safe. We still have to shop for a good wedding present for you two after all," Kisho calmly assured her with a smirk.
"Also Sentou and Akira, still known online as Kite and Blackrose have arrived here as well to help with the cleanup efforts and to monitor how the various machines are working alongside humans. That's the official story at least. Sentou has been having some doubts about his work with G.U. so apparently Niketas sent him over here as a lesson in just now vital our work is now. I've checked in on him and he seems to have had a nice change of heart. He certainly looks less conflicted and irritated now at least," Kisho said changing the subject. Chigusa didn't look totally convinced but she let it go.
"Okay... but be careful. I know my Assassin's are still there flying around and keeping everyone safe and all but still just watch out for yourselves. I love you," Chigusa said blowing him a kiss before closing the connection. Kisho tried to check his email but only got an error message and several server overload warnings before the window crashed completely.
Sighing, Kisho shut down the laptop and closed the top. Looking over to his left he saw Ren still obsessively counting out her pills with meticulous care. Standing up he walked over and put his hands down on her shoulders. She froze for a moment before going back to her counting.
"I know I have enough but I just... I still have to make sure you know? What if I run out? What if I miscounted? What if they get lost at the airport or they wont let me take them on the plane and we get stuck somewhere and I don't have them for my scheduled times or..." Ren rambled on her hands trembling on the table before Kisho leaned down and wrapped his arms around her in a hug.
"You're going to be okay. You are not going to relapse. We are going to get home to Japan and you are not going to run out of medication. Not now and not later. I know things are chaotic right now but in another week or so we'll be on a plane. You know we can always get G.U. to pull some strings if they give us trouble with your medication. Besides they have months worth of all your meds stocked up back at G.U. headquarters. Just for you," Kisho reminded her like he always did when she got upset. Nodding slowly she fiddled nervously with the cap on one of the medication bottles.
"Come on. Let's get you some tea and spend time with our gracious hosts Karim and Aaliyah. If we play our cards right we just might have some new private sponsors helping out G.U. and I know they're interested in learning more about what we do. Might as well kill some time showing off our hacking skills, right?" Kisho offered up as a distraction. She tilted her head back and gave him a slit eyed look knowing full well what he was doing.
"Fine whatever. I know you're just trying to distract me from my impending schizophrenic breakdown," Ren muttered pessimistically as she started putting the pills back into their proper bottles. It had been close to a year since her last hospitalization and he knew that she was getting more and more nervous and stressed out about it the more time passed which only increased her chances of having a breakdown. Still he loved her dearly and did his best to assure her that they would deal with that when the time came.
Kisho kissed her cheek and ruffled her hair. "Quit being so negative. We'll starve or get robbed long before that ever happens."
"Have I ever said how much I hate you?"
Both of them were quiet for a moment before Ren tilted her head back to look up at her twin.
"So how long do you think they've been secretly married? I give it a few weeks," she asked curiously and Kisho sniffed and picked the polish on one of his fingernails.
"Oh, please. Knowing Ryou I'm saying a few months by now," he countered.
"Only if you're prepared to lose."
Abigail fidgeted and shifted back and forth. They had all made it to Japan but instead of going to G.U. or receiving a visit from a representative they had trailed along with a vehicle caravan to this underground warehouse. Sure they had been able to wash up, change clothes, and get some good food for once but there was little to no information forthcoming. That was a month ago. The network had fallen apart since then and the nations were now trying to figure out what happened even as they pieced their nations back together.
One minute I'm just a soldier in the desert who specializes in computer and electronic communications. Sure I'm driving around in a giant military humvee that can talk back to me and make snarky comments but still I had a bright future and maybe even some good promotions if I played my cards right, Abigail thought as she let out a heavy sigh and laid back down, stretching herself across the front seat of Terra's cabin. Now I'm in Japan, large portions of the network are still patchy and unreliable at best, and I've been given an offer by a robot that not only houses an incredibly advanced and sentient A.I. but can also assemble a sniper rifle and shoot it with pinpoint accuracy far faster than I can, she closed her eyes and tried to block out the memories of what happened. The missiles. The giant machines with their blazing heat beams turning the desert sands to glass.
Of course if she was looking for a comfortable place to rest then Terra's cabin probably wasn't the best place to do it. Sitting up she grumbled to herself and tried to look out the front window but the hood was still up. With little else to do but sit around Alex and Noia had decided to work on a new voice upgrade for Terra. It would allow her to talk to them with a customized voice. They should be running the first few tests any minute now.
Noia, the gun slinging machine may have no problem sitting around patiently for long periods of time but humans needed to stay busy. Harry wanted nothing to do with any of this and just wanted to go home. He had already been cleared for passage back to his home and would be leaving today. G.U. had already discussed things with his head officers as well as detailing what was and was not confidential. They were clearly planning on revealing more of their plans very soon but until then they didn't want reports of giant laser wielding scorpion robots all over social media. Although Abigail guessed that it wouldn't be more than a couple weeks wait for such an announcement seeing as A.I. controlled machines and drones were already walking, creeping, and flying through the narrow Japanese streets providing material aide and assistance. Not to mention all the other cities around the world.
For now though Abigail was sitting around thinking of ordering some takeout while an upgrade was installed on Terra. It would improve the sensitivity and detail her sensor capabilities and prevent them from being jammed or interfered with. Andre had been the one to suggest the upgrade after their latest ordeal that had brought them over here in the first place, but his computer skills extended about as far as turning things on and off when they didn't work. Besides there was no reason why they couldn't since they were all just sitting around twiddling their thumbs and trying to fill the time anyway until G.U. told them what to do next. Those of them who were staying at least. Harry was in a guest area Skyping with his wife back home. Andre was now sitting back drinking some fruity alcoholic drink in a chair off to the side while Alex and Noia worked to install the upgrade. Finally Alex came over from under the hood and leaned with his arms on the open windowsill.
"Okay Terra how is it?" Alex asked and Abigail sat up on her elbows and watched the display light up with diagrams flickering across the screen. Abigail could immediately see the problem. Evidently some wires weren't connected properly and were sending out error messages. Leaning farther into the cabin he stared at the diagrams for a few seconds before backing up with a frown on his lips. Grumbling under his breath he went back to work as Noia stepped aside and came to the passenger side window. Abigail leaned back against the seat and tilted her head back slightly to look at the tall machine.
"If you need a place to rest the inside of a military vehicle is perhaps not the most comfortable place to do so," Noia commented his solid blue eyes staring down at her, his voice sounded strangely lifelike but still carried a clear electronic tinge. Abigail shrugged and looked away from him. The truth was that she couldn't sleep anywhere else. Not peacefully at least. She had been on edge ever since the missile attack at the base and being next to or inside Terra was the one place she felt truly safe. She had been sitting on Terra's hood at the time when she suddenly prompted the soldier to get inside the cabin. They weren't able to get any damage reports from what happened and they didn't know how many lives had been lost or how many were injured. Not knowing what had happened to her fellow soldiers was driving her crazy. Sure Abigail was interested in helping out G.U. and continuing to work with Terra but she still wanted some answers.
"Noia... could you do me a favor?" Abigail tilted her head back to look at him. "Can you find out what happened to the rest of the soldiers on the base? I have to know how many of them are ok and how many are..." she stopped and swallowed hard. Sitting up suddenly she pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. "I'm grateful that G.U. was able to get us out of there and I'm happy that Terra thought enough of us to save our lives but I just... I just need to know what happened to the others. I need some kind of closure," she finished softly and silence fell between them. When Noia didn't answer she twisted around and saw him handing a bag through the window.
"Terra informs me that you have not had a sufficient meal in at least three days and requests that I not give you any information until you have eaten something and eaten a fair portion of it. Although I disagree with the choice of sustenance as fried rice and shrimp doused in various sauces and of this high a calorie count does not seem entirely healthy for an organic life form such as yourself. However if it will get you to eat then I'll gladly get you some more," he stated calmly and put the bag on the seat. Abigail scowled and glared at the display screen.
"Give me information and then I'll eat," she countered and a message popped up on Terra's display in response.
Start eating and then Noia will start giving you what information he has. Until then I hold your info hostage, Terra countered putting up an image of a lock on the screen. Abigail sighed heavily and dragged the food over closer.
"Thanks Noia. If there's soda around anywhere I would appreciate some," she added hopefully. Noia nodded and left, presumably to go see if he could find her any soda to drink. Abigail grabbed the chopsticks and pulled them out of the simple paper packaging and broke them apart. Thankfully she had plenty of experience with using them so it wasn't long before she was hungrily stuffing food into her mouth. She really was a lot hungrier then she initially realized.
Charts and names started to pop up on Terra's screen showing who was dead and who was alive. There were more alive then she expected but not as many as she had hoped. Her spirits rose when she saw that some of her close partners were still alive and being flown back to the states for treatment.
"So I know that must have been all over the news. A major terrorist attack on a US military base. Who is investigating?" Abigail asked swallowing her food and her discomfort along with it. "I mean it is being investigated right?" she said more urgently worried that the incident would be simply branded a terrorist attack, given a few passionate words by some politician and then swept under a rug.
It is indeed being investigated by the United States government and by the country it took place in. That is where we come in, Terra added and Abigail immediately perked up at that.
"Really? Do they want us to go back?" she pressed as Andre and Alex both lifted their heads as her words caught their attention.
I may be working for the United States government at the moment but I was conceptualized and built by G.U. more or less. They officially have the final word in how their A.I. and A-life programs are used. Evidence suggests that the attack was due to someone they have been hunting down for a while. Therefore their desires overlap with that of the military. After a thorough diagnostic checkup we are to leave right away to go back and begin collecting evidence from the base and then track down where the missiles were fired from to see what clues I can pick up there. Noia will be coming with us this time as well, Terra explained and Abigail relayed the information to the guys.
"Hey I'm in!" Andre said eagerly. "I mean those were people we knew. People we saw and worked with. I'm happy for those that survived but for those that didn't..." he stopped and shook his head. "I don't want to leave this in someone else's hands. We have a chance to help track down what happened then I say we go and do it. This is what Terra is built for after all. Besides we'll have Noia and those massive robots Atlas and Titan out there to back us up as well," he said confidently. Alex nodded in agreement as he used a towel to wipe the grease off his hands.
"I'm with Andre. I'd feel better getting out there and doing something. If I had to be laid up in a hospital I'd want to know that someone was out there trying to figure out what happened and make sure justice was done," Alex firmly stated.
"Looks like we're all in Terra... I mean obviously we're in since we agreed to join G.U. in the first place but you know what I mean. How is the U.S. handling this by the way? I mean are we still officially with them or...?" she trailed off not knowing how it all was supposed to work out.
You are still officially with the United States government for the remaining years of your active enlistment. Andre's and Alex's active enlistment period is up in six months. Abigail's in seven. Additional time was added to your active enlistment time since you all received special training once you were selected to work as my team. Once your active enlistment is up the remaining years of your reserve duty will be transferred to G.U. You will be obligated to work for them for another four years. Primarily doing searching and tracking work like we have been doing. Only with less explosives thrown our way hopefully, Terra explained to them and then there was brief pause before more words popped up on screen.
This was all in the contract you know, although someone apparently didn't read all of it. They didn't even have any fine print. It was all explicitly stated there you know, she added throwing up a frowning face on the screen.
"Hey I read it! I just wanted to make sure things hadn't changed. That happens you know," Abigail shot back as a familiar metallic click came closer. Noia appeared in the passenger side window and handed her a fizzy pink soda with dancing strawberries on it.
"I found this in the lounge. I hope it is sufficient," he said handing it over to her. Abigail thanked him and popped open the cap. Although it made her food taste a bit funny afterwards it still had just the right balance of sweetness.
"So until then we just take it easy, Skype with the family and wait until you're finished being checked over so we can be re-deployed?" Abigail asked and Terra beeped affirmatively.
All three of you are qualified to oversee and perform extensive diagnostics so whenever you want to get started... Terra trailed off pointedly and Abigail rolled her eyes.
"All right, all right we get it. Just let me finish eating and let the guys finish hooking up your new voice box and we'll get started," Abigail mumbled around a mouthful of shrimp and rice. "And I am totally going out and getting some real sushi at least once while we're still here in Japan. This is too good of a chance to pass up," she added as Alex and Andre went back to work. Well Alex did at least. Andre went back to sit down and sip his drink.
While part of her was apprehensive the other part of her was eager to get back out in the field and start working again. Working with G.U. was certainly going to be interesting.
Shino closed the video chat and leaned back in her chair, relieved to know that her parents and other friends were all doing okay. She had already known that they were going to have to stay out here on this ship for quite a while longer but she was secretly hoping that maybe, just maybe they would be able to dock sooner then that. Or get a helicopter ride back to Japan. Something.
"At least we have plenty of food. Right guys?" Shino asked looking down at the two rottweilers clustered around her feet. At least she got to keep the dogs. Raiden and Mera had stuck with her while Nezumiiro was off with Masato somewhere. His condition had greatly improved since the collapse and restructuring of the network and now he was almost back to his old self. Almost. There was still some emotional and mental healing for him to do but over all he was looking and acting better than ever before.
"Come on you guys let's see if I can find you something to eat," Shino said and laughed as both dogs lifted their heads and then shot to their feet at the promise of food. The aircraft carrier was huge and there was plenty to explore. Most of it had been re-purposed so that the A.I. systems who controlled the ship could do their work and experiments without having to rely on any outside help. However, there were rooms available for them to sleep in as well as a secure satellite connection so they could get on the network. Much of it still was pretty unstable but she could at least watch the news and download some ebooks to read. A whine and a dog muzzle nudging her leg got her going again.
"Okay, okay I know you're hungry. I'm moving," Shino said standing up and heading out of the room. Both dogs immediately moved into their usual positions. One walking in front of her and one behind her down the cramped hallways. Thankfully the kitchen and eating area was a good size. Shino had already been hunting around and looking around so she already knew where most of the stuff was. Plus if all else failed then the on-board A.I. was ready and willing to help. Going into the kitchen itself she told the dogs to wait and they obediently laid down and watched as she headed pulled out a pan and turned one of the burners on the stove on. She went over to the huge refrigerator and pulled out a large container of meat scraps. These together with a bit of broth would make for a nice meal. Certainly better than the dry bowls of dog food they had been getting so far.
Raw meat might be fine but Shino didn't want to take chances especially out here in the ocean with no land for miles around. Once it was cooked enough she mixed everything up once more time and separated it into three bowls and put two of them on the floor away from each other. If her timing was right then Masato should be coming back here any minute to get something for Nezumiiro.
"Now you can get up and eat," she said and immediately the dogs jumped to their feet and ran over to eat.
"Shino? Are you in here?" Masato's voice called out as toenails clicked rapidly on the tile floors. As she expected a large german shepherd came barreling around the corner tail wagging rapidly as he smelled food in the air.
"Yes, Nezumiiro I thought of you too," Shino laughed and rubbed behind his ears before putting a bowl of food down for him. His tail happily thumped against the cabinets as he ate and Shino moved around him so all the dogs could eat in peace. Masato was hanging back by the door watching. It was good to see him with a smile back on his face again.
"Hey! Did you need something? You have that look in your eyes that you always used to get in The World when you had news for us," Shino said suspiciously as Masato's eyes twinkled.
"It would seem that the Epitaph's have thrown together a bit of a welcome home party for Corbenik. Something to make him feel welcome back at G.U. and with them after everything that's happened. They have information on what happened with Aura as well. We're invited along with Corbenik so I thought you might want to go. There are some headsets up in the main tower. All we have to do is put the headsets on and go to the darknet site set up just for this occasion," Masato offered sounding excited about the occasion.
"I'd be honored to join. If nothing else Corbenik could probably use some moral support," Shino said glancing over her shoulder to see if the dogs were done. "Let me dump those in the sink with some soap and I'll be right there. Why don't you go ahead and get things set up?" she suggested and Masato nodded and whistled sharply. Nezumiiro looked up and immediately darted back to his side. Raiden hesitated for a moment before going as well. Mera stayed at Shino's side like glue as expected.
Once the bowls were in the sink and soaping up Shino wiped her hands on her pants and looked around. To be honest the idea of seeing and being around the Epitaph's made her more then a little uncomfortable even though she knew they weren't going to hurt her. A.I.'s, hackers, coma's, another network crisis, and now floating out in the middle of the ocean while their criminal cases were dealt with both in Japan and internationally in Masato's case. It was still a lot to take in.
It was a long climb up the stairs to the top of the control tower but at least she was getting some exercise. When she finally got up there to the top she stopped and looked around. Masato was there at a bank of computers with two headsets set on the keyboards in front of each monitor. Taking a deep breath, Shino walked over and took a seat beside him. She didn't realize how nervous she was until he reached over and grabbed her hand.
"Are you ready for this? If you would rather not then I understand," Masato offered and for a moment Shino did consider it but she knew she had to do this, wanted to do this.
"No, I'll be okay. Let's go see the others," Shino said putting on a smile that was bolder then how she really felt. Letting go of his hand she took the headset in front of her and put it on over her head. The software logo flashed cheerily before disappearing and transporting them online.
"You look fine, Corbenik. Really," Aura said with a reassuring smile. Corbenik said nothing and instead fidgeted once more. Already he had apologized to her more times then he could count and Aura had kindly assured him each time that she was not upset with him and reminded the Epitaph that he had no choice in the matter. It was a stroke of fortune that G.U. had managed to save her at all. Her data had started crumbling away faster then it could be repaired and Skeith had absorbed her and her power in a last ditch effort to save some part of her and also gain an advantage over Corbenik. It worked and the network was coming back online bit by bit with few to no problems other then stability issues. Gorre had extracted Aura's data from Skeith and Magus had stood by helping to put her back together just the way she was before. While Aura's feelings about the current world situation and humans in general was known only to her, she had expressed her deep gratitude towards G.U. for helping her. If anything she would probably be perfectly content to just disappear completely for a while and keep to herself without being bothered or having people beg her for help. If so then G.U. seemed content to give her the space that she wanted.
As far as Corbenik went he no longer bore the scars from his enslavement to Aihane. His body was now covered in rough blue hued shark scales and the shark skull and spine along his back now had a very slight blue hue to it was well and the inside the skull glowed a soft white instead of the inky blackness of AIDA corruption. A long tail also hung behind him with sharp curved fins. No more stitches lined his body and the gnawing hunger that had plagued him before was gone. Finally he felt entirely whole again in a way that he hadn't in a very, very long time. Before Aihane it was Tri-Edge but now he was complete. A nervous wreck but complete.
"They invited you here for a reason. They invited Masato and Shino here for a reason. You are welcome here Corbenik and they want you to know that. Maybe you've been an outcast before but that doesn't mean you have to be now. You're among friends," Aura added gently and Corbenik nodded and fumbled with his rough webbed hands again.
"Oh! Here they are!" Aura said and Corbenik flinched and looked up hesitantly as data tears appeared and each of the other Epitaphs slid into the open space. Skeith was the first to come up to him and he couldn't help but shrink a bit under The Death Reaper's red eyed gaze. The first and the last finally together again. Not as opponents this time but as allies. Once again Corbenik's eyes had shifted down to his feet but the silence stretched on for so long that he finally had no choice but to look up.
To his surprise, Skeith was holding a hand out to him.
"Corbenik..." he started slowly, "...welcome home."
Ryou leaned back in the chair and let out a deep breath. The welcome home "party" was done and he had gotten a chance to speak with Masato again. It was more then a little uncomfortable but thankfully Chigusa and Shino had helped to make it a lot less awkward until finally they had managed to keep a conversation going on their own at which point the girls had left them both to themselves. It felt strange being in his presence again, especially since he was wearing his old Ovan avatar. Ryou had tried his best to convey that he had forgiven Masato but he wasn't entirely sure how well it went over. Both had promised to keep in touch and Ryou promised to forward some good books to read since there wasn't much else for them to do out in the middle of the ocean. Masato and Shino had obviously grown closer and Ryou was happy for them. It was better then seeing both of them dance around each other that's for sure.
He looked up and saw Chigusa standing there in a tank top and long pajama pants.
"Yeah just thinking about everything," Ryou said shifting position a bit as she came and curled up next to him. He wrapped his arms around her and buried his nose in her hair. Finally the knot of worry and anxiety inside of him began to uncoil.
"I'm tired and not just physically," he admitted and he felt her nod in agreement.
"I know what you mean. It's been a long year hasn't it? Now we focus on recovery and on keeping the governments from breathing too closely down our necks. You know they're going to be so pissed off at us for what we've done," Chigusa said but then paused a moment. "Not that I really care, I mean everything we did was for the best but still I don't blame them for being freaked out. I mean we're basically that organization that creates the super intelligent artificial intelligence system and kicks off the robot apocalypse and everything. Or I am at least since all these machines flying around are mine and all," she pointed out and Ryou hummed and rubbed her back in slow circles.
"We won't be that. Hopefully not at least. I think of all the people who could done it you are the best person possible. I happen to remember a person who was far more cheerful then necessary being determined to be nice to me in The World until she won me over," he reminded her and Chigusa grinned and shifted to look up at him.
"I was so annoying wasn't it?"
"You have no idea," Ryou said kissing her forehead. She smiled and rested her head back down on him.
"We've both changed so much since then. For the better I'd like to think although I have to admit that I do still worry about having so much... potential? Capability? I mean was watching video of a fight that Atlas and Titan got into protecting some new recruits and... honestly it scared me to know that I had created something with that amount of raw power," Chigusa said with small shudder. Instead of speaking up he let the silence hang for a moment until she finally pushed up off him and stared at him expectantly.
"Hey, I'm just saying when the robots do take over they'll do it in the nicest and most politely annoying way ever," Ryou teased and Chigusa scowled and smacked his chest lightly.
"That's not funny."
"Yes it is," Ryou countered tugging her back down. Chigusa huffed but curled back up with him and sighed.
"We're going to make it aren't we?"
"Of course we are. Like it or not you're stuck with me now and I promise I'm going to be the best husband and best friend possible. With only slight grumbling and complaining along the way."
"You've got Innis backing you up after all. If I get out of line there's no telling what she'll do to me."
"Oh very nice point. Skeith has gotten pretty protective of me as well," Chigusa noted. "So what now? Vacation? Work? ...kids"?" she threw in the last one more hesitantly. Both of them stared at each other for a moment before grimacing. They were both barely out of their teens after all.
"Why don't we revisit that idea in a couple years?" Chigusa said quickly and Ryou hurriedly agreed with her.
"Yeah, that sounds much better," Ryou silently made a request and Skeith obliged by dimming the lights and turning some music on for them.
"Thank you Skeith," Chigusa said appreciatively. "What about Ren and Kisho? Do you think they know that we've been married for two months already?" she asked curiously.
"Knowing them they're probably placing bets on it," he pointed out.
"Hmm, you're right. Well, here's to the future. May we face it bravely and with confidence."
"And with the people we love at our side," Ryou added earning a pleased hum and a kiss on the cheek from Chigusa. It was finally over, things would be heating up again before long but for now things had turned out all right. They had earned themselves some breathing room and relaxation and he intended to sit back and enjoy it for as long as possible.
AN: IT IS DONE. The chapter is done, the story is over, the series is ended. I'm not making any sequels to this one, this is truly the end. Although I will finally be updating Sky Kings and maybe doing some Destiny one shots as well. To those who have been reading thank you! To those patient enough to wait a year for this chapter thank you even more! May all your stories go well for you!