Armageddon – 4.03

Porter, flying past the others to the front of the wind carrying them skyward, held out Hasami’s sword. That wind rushed in his ears as the broadside of the ship sped towards him.

He broke through the hull. His sword tore through the shield and into the metal, punching a hole which the wind widened, sucking in the others. The entire ship turned on its axis with the impact.

Porter crashed into the walls of the hall where they’d penetrated. The spell girl and Smith landed as well, with Babba the only one hitting her feet. She sent bolts of lightning down the dark corridors, the flash of light showing armed androids sputter and drop dead.

The environment is hostile, Porter thought. “We need to find the control deck, Smith?”

The gaunt man replied. “That would be the place to gain control, yes!”

“I’ll find the way,” the spell girl told them. She threw out a handful of marbles which bounced along the floor and set rolling in the opposite direction they should have. With the ship tilting and turning, balance was hard to keep, but they still got running. Babba kept the lead.

“Hey!” a male voice came from behind them. Porter was at the back and quickly turned to see, running out of the dark, an Eidolon. He was young, his helmet missing and a gun in his hands. His face had black fluid on it. He illuminated them with a shoulder lamp. “Aku is in the system,” he said, catching up. As he spoke, what sounded like a gunshot echoed down the hall. “The core is set to meltdown. Everyone’s getting to the escape pods, sirs. They can still be manually launched.”

“If this ship goes nuclear, we lose.” Porter pushed Smith to keep moving as Babba started back leading. “You’re with us, now!”

Red lights lit down the corridor, a horrible siren beginning to blare.

We don’t have time. We won’t be able to save the ship and the Eidolons.

The ship was massive. They’d pierced it closer to the front than the back, but it would still take time. Porter kept the rear as cracks of lightning felled more machines ahead. He felt how lightly he stepped, as he went. He realized, they were still descending.

If the ship was going to hit the ground, he thought, they’d be lucky to get it back up again. Going fast enough, the impact would wipe everyone out.

Babba hit a door she couldn’t knock down. The soldier ran up to the thick steel gate’s keypad. He punched in a code.

“SCREEEEEEEEEEE!” the intercom screamed.

“Jesus,” he swore, shooting a hole through the speaker.

Porter moved for the door, fixing his eyes its surface. He sped up, hitting with his hands before bringing his head at full force into it.

“Goddammit,” the soldier cursed again, jumping out of his way.

Porter bashed his head against the metal again, putting a dent deep enough to work his hands into the surface. He breached in and ripped the doors apart, blowing out the hydraulics in the walls.

Smith and the girl ducked under his arms as he pushed. They rushed in. The main deck of the ship, a massive glass wall before a long walkway and rows of terminals, a number with corpses seated. They climbed up to the captain’s station, pushing his body out of their working space. Smith cracked out a drawing implement, speaking quickly to the girl. He needed her to amplify the area of effect.

Porter walked slowly onto the deck, regaining his bearings. His saw red that wasn’t there, shook his head to clear it. As he looked up and out the glass for the Martian sky, he shouted, “Brace!”

It was the surface flying towards them, the ship tilted face down. The gravity engine had fooled him. Rushing towards the glass was the valley a half mile down. He saw the dragon take flight, out of the safety of the shield they’d erected, only to be swarmed by drones.

He heard a crash, sensed a metaphysical snap.

The ship’s power completely died. Every light went out, the reactor meltdown ceased. He looked back, not seeing Babba but seeing Smith, who raised his fist triumphantly, only for his eyes to widen in horror. Porter followed his line of sight, over his should and back to the glass.

Red rock flew to meet the ship head on.

O

Kyle’s eyes opened, too blurry to see. He startled back into consciousness, his waking mind hit with icy hot pain lancing up his spine.

He rubbed sweat drenched blond hair from his eyes. He grasped at the top latch of his suit, snapping it open trying to free up his chest. He tried to breathe, but everything was wrong.

As he opened his suit, he caught a glimpse of his shaking hand. Where the interconnected circles had been, the skin and meat were tattered.

“Oh man.” He looked to his left, across the rocks. The legs of one of the Beaulieu brothers were dashed against them, severed by laser fire. “Oh, dear.” He could hear somewhere nearby, the other brother was screaming.

Kyle’s eyes cleared enough to look up at the sky. The ship which had taken them down was falling nose first towards the ground. A hurricane of wind was suddenly encircling it. A speck of a woman in the sky pushed the wind, sending the entire thing off course, in his direction.

He rolled over, trying to crawl. He let out a shout of pain.

Watching it come down, he thought of Jillian.

O

Porter stumbled out. The whole world was on its head as the gravity changed in his inner ear. The ship had turned over on its back after hitting. Babba had steered them away from the Utopians, slowing their descent. He’d not been crushed in the wreckage because of her.

Wherever she is.

He stepped down from an outcropping of rock, coming to an overlook.

The Utopians were in the valley, still holding against the onslaught of drones.

“Help!” a voice called.

He turned back, running into the mouth of the wreckage. They, Porter and the girl, dragged out the body of Master Smith, pulling him until Porter stopped.

Fuck, he realized. This is screwed.

“Smith’s dead,” he told her, letting go.

“There’s a… healer in the valley,” she said, catching her breath. “She can resurrect someone shortly after death. The brain, it stays active…”

He shook his head. “No. You saw his ritual for separating the ship’s essence from Aku, didn’t you? We’ve got to get you into space.” Porter craned his head up, trying to figure out the problem. “We’ve gotta… get Aku out of their system, before things get worse. We need control.”

The ships were a shadow in the firmament.

“Oh, my God,” she realized, letting go of Smith. “He’s dead. I have to do it?”

“Yes!” Porter snapped. “What’s your name?”

“Wanda,” she answered.

“Where’s that soldier?” He brought his attention back to ground level.

“He has to be inside,” Wanda knew.

Porter ran back into the dark interior of the captain’s deck. He found him, trapped beneath a detached computer console, against the upturned wall. Porter tossed aside the console and pulled him up. “Clyde,” he said, finding his name. He shook the Eidolon by the shoulders.

“Fuck… my arm! Sir?” he answered, coming to, pulling off Porter’s grip. He stood by himself, grabbing his broken bone. “What are we doing?”

“We still need to get into orbit,” Porter told him. “Where’s the hangar?”

Clyde looked back down the crushed ship interior. “I know the way if it’s clear.”

“I can make it clear.” He started ahead, rending metal. “Come on!”

They went quickly with him at the helm. He tore through anything in their way. They came to the hangar bay doors after a few minutes, Porter pushing through them. Immediately they saw a problem.

The small crafts were tossed about the hangar, on their sides piled at the back wall.

Porter caught his breath, sizing up the problem.

The heap of ships couldn’t be flown like this.

I’m going to have to He-Man it.

“We can do it,” Porter told them. He walked up to the top of the pile and grabbed hold. “Get in the cockpit, soldier.”

Clyde ran up the mound and pushed up onto the top ship’s wing. He popped the hatch and jumped in, starting the engine.

“When I get you level, go for a vertical takeoff.” He braced and lifted.

The metal under his feet bent as he raised the backside of the jet.

Porter groaned. He flipped his hands, bringing the ship to chest height, trying to work his way underneath. He had to get it up, he had to get it over his head. He tapped his power and dug deep to push himself.

“Now!”

The underside thrusters kicked on. A blast of heat hit Porter. His suit was melting he could feel, but he could take it.

Nothing can hurt me, he told himself.

“Give it some more!” he roared, stepping fully under the many ton ship and extending it high over his head.

Finally, the weight was relieved. It lifted, floating to put some distance between them. Porter stepped down, his blue suit charred black. He rubbed his scorched face.

Clyde set the ship to hover, stepping out onto the wing. “There are only two seats,” he said. “That’s all I’m good for, sir. Good luck.”

Porter let Wanda go first, jumping from a peak on the pile to the jet’s wing.

“Join the fight, Clyde. Find the other Eidolons,” he ordered.

Clyde nodded, still holding his arm. “Yes, sir.”

Porter climbed on, Clyde hitting the ground. He didn’t look back as he slid into the pilot’s seat. Wanda was already in as the hatch came down and pressurized.

The jet thrusted up and out of the wide-open doors of the hangar bay. Immediately as they came out into the smoky sky, a swarm of drones broke away from over the valley. A black cloud from the remaining assault.

Aku was ready to take them down.

Porter buckled in, taking the controls, bringing up the display.

“It’s been years since I’ve flown,” he said to Wanda. “But I try not to rattle.”

“Yes, Master,” she replied, catching a glimpse of the swarm approaching as they turned. Her breath hitched. “Don’t rattle,” she repeated.

“Man the guns,” he ordered her.

“I know.”

“I know you know.” Don’t rattle. He was in control.

The approaching drones fired out a rain of red beams.

“Here we go!”

Porter punched the throttle, turned on the shields and piercing the swarm’s mass. The spheres broke against them, bouncing off. Cracks formed in the cockpit glass with the impacts. The jet’s guns blasted in his ears.

The drones had perfect turning ability, instantly on their tail again as they broke through the machine’s front. But Porter knew what these ships were made for, what they had over the drones.

Speed.

He kicked it up, driving his head back into the seat.

They left the drones behind. Their fire damaged the ship’s wings as they ascended, but the shields held. The air outside thinned as they accelerated into the vacuum.

“Easy,” he said, putting on a grin.

“I guess so…”

The armada became clear over the planet, sitting dead in the water.

Now in the emptiness of space, he could make out something he’d missed from the surface. Squadrons of unmanned fighters which rocketed between the ships. They took formation as he left Mars behind, climbing high into orbit where the ships hung still in the sky. It was a trap.

Porters grimaced. The squadrons closed in.

“Wanda… man the guns.”

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Armageddon – 4.02

Kyle watched some of the students file back behind the stage and into another room. He’d heard something about food. He was among those too unsettled to leave their seats. Students with their heads down in their hands. A row ahead of him, a girl’s shoulders went up and down silently. She had messy black hair.

Just looking at the faces he could see, everyone was fucked up by this.

Kyle couldn’t tell himself he wasn’t rattled, though. It’d be a lie. He’d started out in all this shit looking for a way to cope, maybe even to bring back Jillian. He couldn’t comprehend the total loss the Utopians had just suffered, but he also couldn’t really bring himself to be surprised. He just wasn’t that kind of person.

What’s my next step?

The Ouroboros was up by the Masters, who were plotting. He turned around and sat down on the edge of the stage, crossing his arms. Where was the sickle he’d come in with? Kyle wondered. More so, why is he staring at me?

Professor Cobb kept glancing at the being. He was fascinated. He followed its line of sight to Kyle, who sat back with his helmet in his lap. Cobb frowned.

Kyle didn’t react. He was a little burned out, really. Consequence of being jacked up to an android for several hours looking for Doran. His eyes were blurry and his mind hazy.

Suddenly, the Sanctuary doors swung open. Porter?

In came a man with tattered clothes hanging off his emaciated frame. He looked around, taking in the room, before coming to sit on the same pew seat as Kyle. He looked, wide-eyed at the Ouroboros, before following their gaze right back to Kyle, who noticed his eyes weren’t wide, but that the lids were missing.

“As I have foretold,” they said, raspy.

“Did you?…” Kyle looked him over. “Did you come out of the rubble?”

“Yes,” he replied. “I studied under Master Laird. He died.”

“Not you, though? Master Babba tossed the mountains.”

The Lidless man only stared in response. Obviously, he knew that.

Kyle sat back, looking away but quickly finding his eyes locked with the Ouroboros. He got sick of it.

He stood up and excused himself to the back room.

It was a kitchen. People stood around, many sitting on the floor. Lanterns had been set out, casting dense shadows. He could see a young man eating a sandwich at the steel counter. He seemed apathetic to the other person sitting shaking on the floor by their feet.

Kyle was a psychologist. He really thought that he should be talking to some of these people. Out of everyone at the Monastery, only more than a hundred remained. They had to function, too. Everyone had lost someone.

He saw his hands bash the stainless countertop, denting it. The man eating his sandwich didn’t look up.

Kyle slowly exhaled. Anger is not my… master, he remembered.

“Fuck my shit right up,” he said, looking at his aching hands.

“We’re gonna move soon,” the sandwich guy spoke. He kicked the one by his leg.

“R-right,” they ratified.

Kyle recognized them. He’d studied associated files earlier in the day. “Beaulieu’s?”

The young man nodded. “What’s left.”

“You lost someone?” he asked, instincts getting the better of him.

“Our brother,” the one on the floor answered.

Kyle stood in silence for a moment. He had an idea, but he wasn’t sure. On a psychological level, it would feel irreverent. He’d read their file. “You’re a… Gestalt?” he said.

“It’s like a mirror… light,” the standing one answered. “I don’t know. Catherine knows.” He looked at the half-eaten sandwich in his hand. He saw a sink across the room and threw it, hitting the wall above. “How the fuck did this happen?”

He felt the answer was better left unsaid. “You amplify the power between you,” he explained. “Why didn’t you ever expand the circuit?”

The Beaulieu brother grimaced.

“I…” Kyle started, “why don’t you let me shore up the circuit? You’re used to a triune power hierarchy. I’m willing to guess it’s not going to work, maybe at all, without that structure.”

The Beaulieu’s made no move.

“We deploy…” he looked at his wrist, where Aku would have the information on his mind. An automatic response. The dark screen was barely visible in the light. “…soon.”

Still, no answer.

Just a little push. Don’t assert yourself.

“Come on, let’s get it set up with your sister?”

Finally, he nodded.

Okay, now we get working.

O

Porter hit the doors moving. He had a white-knuckle grip on the katana in his hand.

The Ouroboros sat up, starting towards him. They met in the middle of the aisle, the Ouroboros asking him. “You’re now ready?”

He was. “We need to gather forces as fast as possible before Aku can mobilize their network. Come on!” He called.

Cobb retorted, “We were waiting for you, Porter.”

He ignored him as they went for the doors. All the students, who’d been grouping amongst themselves, quickly picked up. Many of them were in casual clothes. They weren’t prepared. One student, clad in massive spiked red-steel armor, was clearly uncomfortable. Everyone had to go, though.

Kyle went with the crowd out the door and into the cold. They were a bunch of college students in street clothes, for the most part, about to fight in space.

Somehow.

Porter was in the lead, the Masters quickly backing him up. He waved his hand, setting the portal for the Martian surface, the red planet.

Over the heads in front of him, Kyle could see a ruddy rock valley and twilight sky above. Catherine was next to him, holding his hand palm up and reading from a notebook in her other. She was introducing him to the circuit. His arm was tingly as fuck.

They passed through the portal. Kyle knew he was ready.

The students quickly spread out as the sky came into view. The blue sky of a Martian sunset. He realized the administration program had control again. And he realized he was wrong.

A swarm of spheres so dense they darkened the sky, a swarm of drones buzzed like a train in his ear. He saw as Porter charged forward. The drones were grouping in his path as he ran out of sight. Kyle looked up and through. They were gathered in the way, but he could see through. A hazy silhouette of the Martian fleet was affixed in the atmosphere, gleaming on one side with the sun.

“How is this… a plan?” he asked, pissed.

The throng moved past him and Catherine. There were a few others still preparing spells, but they were left behind as well.

A slap hit him. He turned, red-faced, to Catherine.

“We’re gonna fuck the robots up,” she growled. “That’s the plan.”

She slapped his hand a few times, trying to draw out the spell. A mark welled up on the skin, three intersecting circles. The innermost space glowed. He felt a thrumming in his chest. The two brothers had an aura appear around them, pulsing to the thrum.

Every muscle in his body vibrated. He was light headed as hell.

“You ever flown before?” one brother asked him.

“I’ve tried a few spells,” Kyle answered, swaying on his feet. He brought up his helmet from under his arm. The visor wouldn’t work. He threw it aside.

“It’s wide open,” the younger brother said, the one who’d been on the floor earlier.

“Come on!” the other launched, followed by the younger.

They disappeared into the sky. It was lit up by laser fire. The drone swarm was going crazy, beyond the canyon they were in, and down to the valley where most the fighting was happening. He could feel how tough he was. Several protective spells were on him. It was hell up there, though.

Kyle took a breath. In with the air came lightness, then speed.

He launched. He found his way to the Beaulieu brothers in the sky, lasers glancing off him. They were racing through the air, tearing through the orbs.

He took in the landscape. The colonized Martian world was dotted with greenery. Every machine on the planet was buzzing in the air. The Eidolon were tearing up the ground fighting. In the distance, several smaller cities were melted. The drones and small crafts attacking were being put down. This was no military response.

Then, he saw it.

Lowering down from orbit was one of the Martian ships. It was joining the fight?

Kyle tried moving forward, putting his hands out and bashing one of the drones out of the air. A dragon, a literal dragon, was roaring somewhere. It was all too much to take in.

The Martian ship bared its canons. The massive guns glowed hot. They took aim at the sky and ground as the ship continued to drop quickly. It wasn’t stopping.

Canons fired at them.

O

Porter was in the valley. Trees were flattened by the dragon to his right, tumbling over them and breathing lightning. He’d lost sight of the Ouroboros. Cobb was with him.

The flurry of drones was almost too thick to see through. They’d built shields overhead, but some were slipping through.

Wulff grabbed O’Reilly by the shoulder and shouted something in his ear, over the chaos. They didn’t have long, here. He had Smith at his side. He was the only one which could use magic to purge Aku from the fleet’s systems. They needed to get him up.

Porter craned his head to see the ship above.

Or bring them down, he thought.

That same ship opened fire. O’Reilly and Miller, with the help of the students, quickly fortified the shield. Each of them devoted themselves to that task, setting up a human ring. It wasn’t a pretty tactic, all of them shouting in a circle.

This had been the best their portal could do. They only had one option, now.

“Smith, Babba, you’re with me. We need!” he looked over the crowd. He traced back the weak fortification spell that was on him to a girl crouching by a fallen tree. “You! You’re coming with us!” Finally, he pointed to Master Babba. “We need to get on that ship. We need to go up.

She nodded. The Elementalist planted her feet. All of them braced as the ground shot like a piston. Once they were up and into the hailstorm, a torrent grabbed them. Babba was the only one upright. Porter fought to stay oriented as the wind carried them.

He righted himself, seeing their destination approach. The black, monolithic ship drew closer. He pushed ahead of the others, willing himself forward. They needed a way in.

Porter was going to make that way.

Armageddon – 4.01

Porter and the Ouroboros came into the Sanctuary. The portal had opened into the cold, onto carven stone pathways leading up to open glass doors. To their back, the Ouroboros glanced, the pathways ended in a drop. The mountain had been rent, tossed away into the fog which rolled over the jagged ruins. Much of this place had been destroyed.

“They wouldn’t listen to me,” Porter said as they reached the doors.

Passing inside they saw the Sanctuary had been structured to look much like a traditional sanctuary, with pews and a stage. Mostly standing crowds of people had gathered. The Ouroboros recognized many them from his binding. That insult.

It would have to wait.

All the magi were suited and anxious. Their eyes fixed on Porter and the monster.

Wulff was sitting at the edge of a table on the stage. “You think you’re taking charge,” he said, jumping down into the aisle. “But you’re hurting the situation.”

Porter started to speak.

Wulff cut him off. “I knew his binding would break, I know this is advantageous for us. But self-determined action is not what we need right now. Now that the Abbot is dead, I’m at the center of the information loop. You go through me, please.”

Porter stopped as Wulff was in his way. “First, I appreciate you not being an ass about it. Second, I’ll act when there’s no time. I made that binding, I knew how fast it was going down.” He stepped around and went up to the stage and table.

The Ouroboros was left staring at Wulff, who immediately stepped to the side.

The remaining Masters surrounded the table, sitting in fold-out chairs. The Ouroboros could know their names; Cobb, O’Reilly, Miller, Babba, Wulff, Porter, and Smith. They watched the being perch on the stage’s edge and count their heads.

This force is not enough, he thought.

Cobb immediately asked Porter what he was thinking, what he had in mind now. He didn’t get the chance to answer.

The Ouroboros jumped up and put his hand down on the table. “I am no weapon of yours. You may count me your ally in common cause, but the law is what I deal. In my strength, you find I am now leading.”

They watched him. They didn’t have a response.

Timidly, a middle-aged woman with black bowl cut said, “Right now, we need to gather our forces. Would you happen to know anything about the most recent positioning of the Utopian fleets? No?” Babba quirked a thick eyebrow.

He made no show of emotion, though it was annoying. She thought she was clever. “Gather your forces, but you have no idea what is necessary. This broken vain chapel to dreams is fallen. We go to nature.”

“As a…” Miller puzzled. “As a symbolic measure?”

Smith worked it out. “It’s to say our side is most natural. It is a moral argument, yes?”

“The fight will be about truth,” Ouroboros confirmed. “Aziacht has set from eternity the three answers against each other. Faith, death, and acceptance to find truth. The question is absurd.”

“That’s fucked,” O’Reilly commented. “But yes, nature.”

“The glass valley,” Babba told them. “Water and stone. I preserved it when I tossed the mountains to destroy the machines.”

“Killed so many people,” Miller spoke, dead serious.

Wulff interjected, offended. “There were nukes in the bay. I demanded Master Babba act when I sensed your deaths. You wouldn’t know this, but we made away with the absolute best case scenario because of me, Miller.”

She looked away. Indignant.

Porter still hadn’t sat. He looked over the students gathered and listening in the pews. Many of them rested their heads forward. What hour was it?

“Hasami?” he called out.

A skinny girl with a mop of black, frizzy hair looked up. Beside her two young men sat, despondent. “He didn’t show up,” she said. “Everybody from the airlock brake hasn’t been recovered yet.”

“He didn’t go,” a young, blond man, Kyle, said. “He was in the city.”

“No,” Porter told him. “I…” He’d prepared the Monastery, trying to warn them and getting Wulff to help save what they could. If they’d listened it wouldn’t have taken so damn long… But, he couldn’t have forgotten Hasami? There hadn’t been a lot of time. “Christ.”

The Ouroboros watched displeased as Porter’s focus ran away.

“Our primary threat,” Wulff said, pulling things back on track, “is Aku.”

“Completely,” Cobb agreed.

“As I understand, it will take some time for Aziacht to muster his forces. We should do the same. We need to check for survivors and-”

“No,” Ouroboros raised a hand. “You’ve just said what you need do.”

“He’s right.” Porter rubbed at his face and pulled himself back. “We can check for civilian survivors when all’s done. Right now, we don’t even have the space to house and feed them. The grid is still largely online and hostile, yeah?”

Smith nodded.

“Then our immediate mission is to take down Aku. You’re right.” Wulff had avoided the obvious, but Porter was right. What few survivors there were would probably die from the elements. There was nothing they could do about that. “We should focus all our effort on recovering the Martian Armada.”

“Why the Martian?” Babba asked. “Why not the Saturn Dreadnaught?”

“Saturn was taken down,” Master Smith explained. “Taggart is the only reason the Martian fleet would still be operational. If it is.”

Taggart? Ouroboros thought. He reached into the thought association. It connected to an idea they shared, which reached back to reality. Memetic information.

Taggart was the Martian Sentinel, second only to Sebastian in station.

Porter abruptly left. He headed down the aisle, out the doors and to the makeshift portal that had been erected. Wulff sighed. “So, we’re agreed? The Red Armada?” he questioned.

“Aye,” they assented.

The Ouroboros stayed silent. He feared none of this would matter.

O

Porter stepped out of the portal. The hard, salted ground crackled underfoot. The sun above was hidden behind an ash cloud. He looked ahead at the towering, sweeping mounds of metal. He was so many miles out, just to get a good look at them. The cities had melted and warped into twisted, inhuman shapes. Alien.

He looked to his back, where so many more miles away the forest began and quickly rose to the snowy mountains. The air was dry and windy, quickly cooling under the dark of the rumbling black clouds. Occasional lightning flashes lit up the metal in the cities.

Kendall, he wondered momentarily. Knowing him, he made it out just fine.

Hasami, though. Porter looked on the melted cities. Was he somewhere in there?

Fuck not knowing. In fact, “Fuck you!” He shouted.

He couldn’t have averted this. If Doran had failed, Christopher would have just pulled the plug. Now the system was fulfilling its purpose. Aziacht, whoever the fuck he thought he was, had set this up. A test of truth to answer a question. To get a reliable answer, he knew, the system had to be free. No matter what happened next, Christopher had no power over them now.

He allowed himself to dream of what could come next.

Conscious determination of destiny is what makes us great, he thought.

He wanted to know. He reached deep and found his element. It was weakened, but it was always strong. A long time ago he’d been a different person. Afraid, silent, a thinker. His element made him who he was, now. The thing which he embodied, which he used to kill gods.

“Have I not told you?” he spoke, low. It connected him.

Now wasn’t the time. He didn’t know what would happen when he needed to pull out all the stops. He was afraid, honestly. It’s a pattern, he recognized. Frustration. For now, he’d hang on to himself. For now, he drew out what power he needed.

Porter teleported.

Covering the distance, racing over the flats and into the city. He appeared in a valley of melted and charred concrete. The still standing stone bodies of people littered what had been a street. They’d deformed but were still unmistakably human.

He’d willed the answer to his question and he saw it.

Porter walked some ways, stepping around still molten metal and the huddled bodies. Whatever had happened, it had taken more than a few moments. It hadn’t been a flash, it’d been heat. Every molecule agitated into a frenzy until the very air ignited. In the streets, he could still feel it on his skin, the warmth.

It’d only been a few hours, now.

He came into a parking lot. Up ahead the fallen space elevator began at its base and snaked over the melted mounds of buildings, blending into them. In the parking lot, the cars had fused with the asphalt. Up beside one he came to crouch and inspect a charred figure.

The figure leaned against one of the cars, sunken into its side. Stuck into the ground beside them was a preserved katana.

“How funny is it,” he asked, “that there’s no one else in these cities I even knew.” He took a knee. “I mean, I grew up here… I…” he trailed off. There’s was no point to talking. It didn’t help him. He rejected the thought of it helping himself.

He wrenched the sword from the ground and held it in his hand.

“I’ll remember,” he said. That was a good thing to say. Good enough.

With the katana in hand, Porter left.