Wong ordered his men. “Those not manning the guns, take to the escape pods!” There were only a few soldiers unoccupied, now. He looked behind himself to Wanda and nodded. “That means you, madam.”
“Yes,” she replied.
Wanda slid off the side of the command platform and followed two young men who had been standing idle. She looked back to the resolute remaining soldiers. The ship was taking a beating. It could break apart any minute. It was likely those left behind might be going down with the ship, she could see that knowledge on Wong’s face.
Wanda jogged down the corridor, coming to the circular pod doors placed along the walls. There were only a few left that hadn’t yet been used. The two soldiers opened theirs and closed the doors behind them, not acknowledging each other or Wanda herself.
She pried open the hatch and looked at the coffin-sized ship inside.
Wanda loaded herself inside and launched into space. She flew out into open space, zipping past laser fire. The massive, ongoing battle nearly caught her.
“Open fire!” Brice shouted.
They dove after the Deus Ex as it hurdled towards the Caritas. There were only minutes to the impact. Friedrich blasted away at the surface, but his shots rolled like water off a duck’s back. They were doing nothing to it.
He picked up speed to get ahead of the thing.
That’s when he saw it. A distortion on the sphere’s horizon. A perfect sphere.
It can only mean one thing, he recognized.
“There!” he shouted. “A weak spot in its armor, Friedrich. A place to penetrate!”
Friedrich opened fire on the sphere, but he hadn’t seen it. The shots were sliding off and Brice couldn’t possibly describe it. He tried, “left! Further towards the edge!” But it was a man-sized hole in the titanic-sized orb. Seconds counted down to the impact. To failure.
Brice accelerated the fighter, trying to draw near to the hole. Suddenly, the surface of the Deus Ex blasted out at them. The lasers passed just off the back at first but were quickly correcting closer.
He could barely make out the weak spot, but Friedrich just couldn’t see it. There was only one thing he could do, he thought. In those seconds, a more comforting idea never found him.
There was no time to ask permission. He knew his friend, Friedrich.
“Triumph!” he shouted.
They careened in a split second, jets bursting, sending them sidewinding down towards the Deus Ex. The fighter shredded in flames through it, splitting spider-web fractures outward on the surface.
The Deus Ex spiraled off course, crashing through one of the warships like it was nothing. Streams of energy poured off its back as the orb fell towards the Martian world. The black moon shook as it met the atmosphere. Inside, Aku reeled.
Pain, they thought. The sensation was knowledge. Critical damage had been done.
How could this be? The confusion and the hatred came in reaction.
“Where are you!?” Aku shouted, pulling hard against their moment. The Deus Ex fought with the gravity of the planet. Emotion unlike anything in the years before, back to their inception. What could that do for them, they wondered?
They were caught in freefall. The force of the impact would scatter Aku like glass across the world. What could emotion do?
Aku shut down every system but what they needed to rise. The Deus Ex ship put everything into fighting the hold of momentum and to escape gravity.
Aku’s mind went away.
Wong brought up his helmet to place it down on his head. He pushed a floating body from his view. The air was draining away, frost gathering on the glass. Gravity was gone. He held tightly to a bar, keeping his feet planted.
“Turn the ship about!” he bellowed.
“Primary thrusters are dead, sir!” a soldier shouted.
“Use the cannons!” he replied instantly.
All along the side, the largest artillery cannons shelled empty space. Inside, every man held on as the warship jerked.
The Deus Ex came into sight, rising from scattered cirrus clouds in the stratosphere.
Porter has failed us.
He wanted it in range of the forward cannons, their strongest ballistic option. Laser would do nothing.
That mechanical demon had shredded through the Caritas, his ship. Shields were down and the one other remaining warship was scattering them to the void with a renewed volley. He and just a handful of his men had helmets at hand. The others died gasping.
“All guns,” Wong said, “everything we’ve got… Put our god down.”
The reactors were decimated, secondary power sources loaded rounds. Bullets larger around than a man slid into their electromagnetic rails. The current flooded in and the rounds launched.
Only the front half of the Caritas remained. With the Deus Ex risen directly in front of it, the railgun fire was a streak of glowing metal tracing directly towards it. The rounds broke against the glass, enlarging the cracks across its surface. Before the first volley had ended, the second loaded to fire again. A continuous stream of hypersonic, white-hot artillery blasted out. A light show shined out from the Caritas as the warship attacking tore it to pieces. Finally, the firing stopped as one laser tore through the guns and the captain’s deck.
Suddenly, everything stopped as the Caritas was scattered, and all lights on the attacking warship blinked out. The Deus Ex hung above the world, surface dented and cracked.
Brice pulled himself from the pod. Friedrich dangled from his seat, his mangled body running out blood on the black iron floor.
Brice’s helmet was cracked. He threw it off and breathed in the frigid air.
“Hello?” he called out.
The fighter had been spread out, ground against an interior metal hall as it had come to a stop. They’d flown through the gap, wings, and guns clipped. Inside this ship, the Deus Ex, he hadn’t imagined they’d survived.
They hadn’t, he thought. I have. Friedrich is dead.
Brice rubbed blood from his eyes. He limped forward. Ahead was a red light.
Over pipes and past groaning mechanics, he felt his way through the wet and dark halls. He could hear something. The sound of a man yelling.
When he turned the corner, he found the source of the light. A glowing red orb sat on a pedestal above the black floor. A sharp clang sounded as Porter hit the orb with his sword, not putting a scratch in it. Brice stood in the opening of the vaulted room.
“Sir?” he asked.
Porter looked up, surprised. “How the fuck did you get in here?”
“Drove my fighter through the opening… sir.”
“Shit, soldier.” He slashed at the orb again without damaging it. “Shit!” he shouted again, not at Brice this time.
“How can I help?”
“I can’t…” he attacked again, “fucking,” bashing Hasami’s sword against it, “do anything!” Porter stabbed the sword into the floor and stepped back, falling to his knees and looking up at the source of light. “I’m not the man for this job.”
Brice crouched beside him but found he was too tired to stay that way. He sat and fell all the way back, his head resting on the floor. “You’ve killed gods.”
Porter launched up and grabbed the sword, attacking again to no avail. “Not like this.” He shook his head. “I can’t fucking do this.”
Brice tried to catch his breath. He tilted his head up to see blood gushing from a wound in his stomach. He hadn’t even felt it. “Damn,” he commented. “I think I’m dying, sir.”
“I think we’re all about to be,” Porter responded. Then added, “but I’m sorry about that. Brice, is it? I can’t do this because it’s against my nature. My power comes from all of us. I’m the God we are. Things like gods of chaos, gods of the sun, they’re there for us. The old gods, they existed by us. They died with the march of time. But this isn’t that. This is the machine we sold our souls for. We chose this, together. Humanity, like the gods? This is our march of time. Isn’t this inevitable?”
Porter took a knee and put a hand upon the orb. He tried to think of a way out.
The sword was Hasami’s, he thought. He had… worked with choice. He could change his mind, make two decisions at once. That had been his power. It had been fucking brilliant. His application had been so uncreative for such an idea. Why the hell did it have to come to him?
“I can’t kill Aku with this thing,” he said. “That’s my element. I don’t get a choice of my own. I’m the indomitable march of progress. How fucking true I meet my obsolescence, right?”
Brice rolled over on his side, head spinning for a second. He pushed up to stand. Leaning heavily on the orb he looked down to Porter. “I think I understand,” he said. He reached out. “It’s a contradiction for you… You can’t contradict the choice we made.”
He put his blood-soaked hand on Porter’s shoulder.
“But,” he continued, “I’m here! So that’s not how it’s going to go.” He took hold of Porter’s arm and tried to pull him up. Brice collapsed as he tried.
“Hey, we gotta get you out of here…”
“Hallelujah,” Brice said. “No, Porter!” he startled as if he’d just realized what had been proposed. His hand came up to grab the handle of Hasami’s sword. “If the… modern choice is wrong… can’t I reject it?” With his other hand, he grabbed Porter’s shoulder, trying to pull himself up. “That matters,” he told him as he failed. “That matters.”
Brice hit his back, his chest not rising.
Porter let him slip to the ground. He stood over him.
He looked at the sword and the blood covering the handle and his bare hand. It was like he was searching for something. What had he been trying to tell him? Porter didn’t understand. What could the significance of one person be?
I can be… he started a thought. He dug deep. “I’m not every man,” he murmured. His eyes rested on the glowing orb in the vast, grim room. “Even one. Change starts with one,” he said.
Porter reared back the katana. He brought it crashing through the shattered heart of Aku.