Prelude II

On the peak of a metal spire stood a silhouette lighted by the sun to their back. High above the city below, this heavily armored individual stood guard.

Dressed in heavy power armor, Sebastian was comfortable in the thin, freezing air. His armor consisted of sliding and coiling metals, flaps, and plating, silver and near invisible against the sky. Inside of his helmet, he watched a glowing monitor which showed the entire cityscape.

“Sebastian,” a genderless voice sounded in his ear.

“Aku?” he replied in a rumble.

“Yes, we have a suspected crime in progress. No hurry, but I’m marking it on your map.”

“I see it, lower city. Details?”

“Anna Lynn Canton, I’ve been watching her for a while. She’s purchased a number of arcane texts online, and while that is not illegal, practice, as she’s attempting, is.”

“You think she’s practicing?”

“I suspected, so I had someone at the College look into her activity, confirmed that someone had attempted rituals in her area. She’s on Twenty Forty-Second Street headed towards an abandoned building. At the very least, she’s trespassing pretty regularly, which I already knew.”

“You think it’s time to intervene then?”

“I do. I ignore minor crimes every day, but this is technically a global security threat. Can’t let that slide, Sebastian.”

“Agreed, update me as I go.” With that, he stepped off his perch. Sebastian dropped like a stone through the atmosphere. The air rushed past him, the sound of the wind reaching him even within his suit. Clouds washed over him as he passed by several hovering buildings in his descent towards the surface of the world.

He continued to fall for only a moment when the thrusters on his back, legs, and shoulders kicked on to slow his descent. Sebastian alighted gently on the wet street, the heat from his jets quickly drying out the asphalt. His thrusters suddenly cut out and the streets were quiet again. Rain pattered against the metal of his head as he looked around. There, across the way, was a red translucent dot on his augmented display, inside a ramshackle of a building.

Police. Ironic, he thought.

“My profile of her internet activity would suggest she’ll come peacefully. Don’t spook her,” Aku said.

“Alright.” When he called out his voice was automatically detected and projected. “Anna Lynn Canton! This’s Law Enforcement!”

“If I had teeth I would’ve gritted them,” Aku said. “How about a ‘we just wanna talk’.”

“We need to talk!” Sebastian shouted, his voice as commanding as it always was.

“Umm…” Aku said, about to complain more. There was silence for a short time. The girl was probably coming out.

“Uh-oh…” Aku said. “She’s not with her phone. She bolted.”

“What?” As he asked, the red dot inside of the building blipped, reappearing a few blocks down.

He rolled his eyes.

“My apologies,” Aku said, very sincerely. “I don’t quite know how she did that.”

Sebastian jumped and his jets carried him lazily up into the fog bank to set him down on a rooftop, beneath the bottom of further buildings above. He ran forward and his armor accelerated him to a quick clip before he leaped from the building’s edge and drifted up the next. He wasn’t gaining on her like he was supposed to be, though, she was somehow keeping her lead.

“Aku, give me a visual.”

A square appeared with a three-dimensional display of Miss Canton sprinting down the street. She ran inhumanly fast, her feet spending more time in the air than they did on the ground.

“Weird air displacement, she appears to be experiencing lessened friction,” Aku said. “I’m looking for further info on her and finding that some of it is sealed. I’ll keep analyzing.”

“Figure it out,” Sebastian said. He gave up on land movement and reverted to full flight mode, picking up speed and gaining on the girl.

This didn’t need to be hard, he thought. Stop making it, you stupid girl.

O

Anna looked back over her shoulder, having to slow down a bit to do so. The fog overhead and about a half mile back was rippling around a massive metal man spitting fire and flying.

“Holy shit!” She startled and nearly tripped. Being pursued by a fuggin’ Sentinel. Her heart felt like it was going to explode. She didn’t know what she’d expected really. It wasn’t like there were any regular police, obviously, but a Sentinel felt like overkill.

Just then Anna spotted a black glass sphere hovering in the air to her left. It was watching her. Aku was watching.

Have to lose them, she panicked, too afraid to think of anything else.

She veered right into an alley. The wind at her back was intensifying and as she passed into the extremely narrow road she felt like she was almost riding on it. Her hood was rippling wildly and her jacket flapped. Ahead a fence barred her path. Beyond it, the alley dipped down into a tunnel. She could lose the Sentinel in there.

Anna jumped and tried to get a grip on the walls with her feet, trying to kick off while she felt so light.

Slick, she realized too late.

Her shoes slipped and Anna tumbled head over heels, not hitting the ground but instead flying forward carried on the wind. Her body crashed into the fence and all at once that air at her back hit her, rushing over her and through the fence. She slumped down onto the muddy, soaked ground. Everything was still again.

No idea what the hell just happened.

The jets of the Sentinel roared as he settled down forty feet away from her at the mouth of the alley. The black sphere silently appeared high above where the alley walls ended and became roof, but beneath the foundation of a building above. Anna was still, her eyes wide like a deer in the headlights.

Sebastian threw his arms back, his body naturally levitated upward as arcane energy crackled in the air. The chest piece of his armor broke open, revealing the circular rune glowing on his darkly skinned chest. The intricate symbol burned with energy.

“No, no, no! I’ll come quietly!” Anna stuck out her hand, pleading.

A wave of light burst forth from the rune towards her, everything becoming blurry. Her focus slipped, the grey world becoming distant. Terror of death was the final thing to slip her mind.

O

“Kind of unnecessary,” Aku said, the shiny glass drone lowering into Sebastian’s view. His armor closed up again, sealing him inside.

It was nippy out, so now Sebastian had cold air in his suit.

“No, she was asking for it,” he said, grouchy now that his nipples were cold.

“She was surrendering,” Aku said, using that same characteristically sincere voice. For some reason, it grated on Sebastian.

“I had initiated before she did. It’s not easy to stop runes in progress, Aku. Just get me a combat drone in here to restrain her, I don’t want to use binds.”

“You just don’t want to carry her,” they teased.

“Stop fucking around, Aku.”

Radio silence lingered for a moment.

“…I’m getting the right drone in, but it has to deploy from the defense building in city one. ETA is four minutes by flight.”

Goddammit, he thought, I am not apologizing.

“Wait, why not a teleport?” he asked, reflexively bringing a hand up to pinch the bridge of his nose. His hand clanked loudly against the visor of his helmet. He sighed.

“Anna worked mostly with space displacement. In my judgment, at this time, we can’t be certain it’s safe-”

“Sorry for snapping.” Sebastian found the courage to apologize when doing it interrupted a speech on not mixing magic and science. He specifically specialized in tech and arcane combinations, as many of the better operatives did. He hated the hoops he had to jump through because of it, but some of the higher ups were extremely insistent.

“Don’t be,” Aku was unfazed. “I’m supposed to know how not to illicit that kind of response. But it seems as if you’ve experienced minor personal growth, so it’s all good.” Chipper as always.

“Whatever.” Sebastian knew, Aku focused too heavily on emotions and reactions sometimes.

He turned around and wandered out into the street. A young couple was just standing in the road holding hands, staring at him. The boy was dressed in a fashionable leather jacket, black v-neck tee,  infinity scarf and jeans. The girl wore similar, though her jacket was fleece. She had a toboggan over her long platinum hair.

“Sup,” said the boy.

They weren’t the least bit afraid of the seven-foot-tall metal hulk. People were often afraid of Sebastian, in and out of his suit, so this irked him a little. These were the kind of people who’d probably never been off the world, never wondered how the government functioned or how their free meals were produced. Plebeians.

“Hello…” Sebastian replied. His voice was deep, it carried.

“What’s happening here?” The girl asked.

Aku took over and Sebastian didn’t mind. The drone flew out into the street, putting the alley out of its view. “Suspect fled, and the Sentinel pursued. She was neutralized.”

The girl gasped. “Is she dead?”

“No,” Aku said,”just unconscious. This Sentinel employed a very powerful sleeping spell. She’ll be out for around twenty minutes. In that time, she’ll be moved to a detention cell for questioning.”

“What’d she do?” the boy asked.

“She fled,” Sebastian cut in. “That’s enough.” The two didn’t react as if they’d heard. The boy’s lips moved but the sound didn’t reach Sebastian.

Aku, he realized.

“Apologies, Sebastian, but I canceled the broadcast of your voice. That young man runs a blog which has thousands of followers and hundreds of visits every day. That girl, she is a relatively well-known artist. Together they represent a possible domino effect which could destroy your personal relations. They’re using me for a search on you, right now, on the neuronet. As your personal assistant, I would recommend you let me handle them.”

“Does my PR affect my pay?” Sebastian asked, irritation reaching his tone.

“Theoretically, it could get you fired.”

“Fine then.” The couple was smiling now, they laughed soundlessly. Both waved and started off with smiles on their faces.

“Wave.”

The tank of a man waved a hand energetically. The two were off down the foggy street in a second, the boy with an arm around the girl’s shoulder.

“Ugh. Is the equipment here yet?” He turned back to the alley.

“Arriving now.”

A larger second black sphere descended from the sky behind Sebastian as he stood staring down the empty alleyway.

“Son of a bitch,” he whispered.

The girl was gone.

O

Anna stumbled down the tunnel, the only lights were small, orange, and did next to nothing to help her see. She frantically looked for a guide.

This is a droid tunnel, Anna thought, it should exit on a road or something.

A light turned on up ahead, a horizontal beam coming through across the ground. A doorway. She ran for it, ready to be out of the dark.

She stopped short of opening it. It had turned on the moment she came into sight. She squinted, trying to adjust to the darkness. The door had a camera somewhere on it. She knew it would.

Paranoid, Anna headed off another way.

She ambled as fast as she could through the dark, using her hands to find a way down the walls. Suddenly those walls turned in opposite directions. She walked forward to find the width of the hallway.

She couldn’t find the wall. There wasn’t any wall!

Anna turned around and tried finding her way back, but couldn’t. She was lost in the dark, alone. She fell to her knees and ran her hands along the ground, her panic rising.

No ceiling. No walls. Can’t see!

It hit her, she was heading into a droid tunnel, not out. God knew how deep these tunnels went. Robots didn’t need light in pre-mapped labyrinths.

Help…” Her voice came out small, a squeak. “H-help!”

“Anna,” Aku said.

She yelped and jumped away from the where the voice came out of the dark. Anna went higher and further than she’d expected, crashing down a few yards away and rolling. She deftly scrambled to her feet and started running.

“Anna wait.” The calming voice was suddenly all around her.

The lights flickered on to reveal dozens of humanoid service androids. Their agendered alabaster faces all with expressions of concern.

It was like a nightmare.

“Just stop.” The metal man stood in the entrance hallway to the droid warehouse. His helmet folded away to reveal the face of a very old, very angry, African man. Something broke inside Anna, and she was worried it was hope.

She slid to the floor, her head going into her hands.

Trapped. More than ever before.

A sob echoed through the massive room.

“It’s okay, you’re gonna be okay,” one of the androids said, approaching to sit down beside and embrace her. Sebastian didn’t come closer, he idled awkwardly at the door.

“What am I supposed to do?” he asked Aku, his voice not leaving his suit.

“You could say something, but I think it’d be better if you let me take it from here.”

“Yes, agreed.” And with that, he left, the combat drone from earlier passing him on his way out. It hovered over to Anna, and an aperture opened on its surface. A beam fired from the port. She froze temporally, the moment the stasis beam hit her. The android easily lifted the girl, as a solid unbreakable object, and carried her away.

O

When Sebastian found the daylight again, however muted it was behind the fog bank, he left his helmet down. He didn’t normally do this, walk at ground level. He was a Sentinel, his charge was this planet and her inhabitants, his watch was unending. His place was above the clouds where it was clear, keeping watch for real threats, not down in the mire.

He would stand for days unmoving. Didn’t need to sleep or consume like the plebeians, didn’t age any further than the current wrinkly. He had enough firepower to level a city, dammit. He didn’t need crying little girls.

He had all the time in the world, though, and for that he was grateful.

Sebastian rose steadily from the ground, out of sight and into the firmament.

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