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Rush Hour

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His swords were fizzing out, same as his shields.

“Damn it, Colette, you need to run!” Lloyd screamed desperately, the CEO of Cruxis Co. pinning him down easily. Yggdrasill, people called him. Wings doubling as robotic limbs snatched Lloyd’s Exsabers without so much as a singe in their metals. Yggdrasill’s real hands wrapped around Lloyd’s arms, his fingers creeping through the shields.

“I’m not leaving you!” Colette cried, her own wings flicking in and out of existence against her will. It seemed just being near him caused malfunctions in Exsphere technology. “I, I couldn’t live if I lost you, Lloyd!”

She launched a chakram their way, the discs lighting a brief bright yellow as the laser energy surrounded them. Before they could hit their mark, the light vanished. Yggdrasill caught it in his wing-like appendages, crushing it back into sand.

“He’s not after me!” Lloyd was losing. His shields were almost completely gone now, and his sabers had shut down. He held Yggdrasill in place with his bare hands, but it wasn’t going to last. “If he captures you, you’ll be lost, and I couldn’t live with that! Please, Colette, run!”

“It won’t matter either way,” Yggdrasill said with a sneer. The entire street had lost power, leaving him a glowing figure in the dark. The whites of his teeth glared with the neon patterns his wings produced. While he wore no shields, his suit remained spotless.

Colette’s sensors were failing. The UI at her visor listed hundreds of errors before shutting off, leaving her to the darkness of human eyes. It wouldn’t be long before the rest of the muscles in her body stopped working as well. Lloyd was right. She needed to get away. They’d both die if she stayed.

“I’m sorry,” she said, unsure if he could even hear her. Their communications were out. Something sparked and snapped in the dark where Lloyd was. Purple light shone off his pained face, and she could stand no more. She dashed away, hoping with every fiber of her being, man-made or no, that this would spare him that man’s wrath.

Yggdrasill grit his teeth, tossing Lloyd to the damp dirty ground. “Don’t think this makes you lucky, you know,” he said. The limbs resumed to their place at his back, whirring with power. “I will be back for you.” Light flashed, old posters and trash flicked up into the air, and the ‘man’ shot out of the alleyway.

Neon signs came back to life. Lloyd’s shields fizzled around his crumbled body. The streetlights were back on outside like nothing had happened. He struggled to regain consciousness, to get back to his feet.

 


 

He was too fast. Colette transferred all available power to her wing systems, the tech at her back burning with pain, overloaded. It hurt, but it wouldn’t hurt as much as what he’d do to her. The UI in her visor blinked in and out of existence, warning her of oncoming trains, cars, people, or other obstacles. She had to rely on her own reflexes for much of it as she sped through the ‘Holy’ streets of Welgaia.

She knew it was too dangerous to come here! She knew it! But Lloyd was insistent that they look into the Exsphere production facility. Admittedly, she couldn’t argue because she too wanted to try her best to end the suffering that Cruxis Co. was secretly causing. She selfishly also hoped she’d be able to free herself of Cruxis’ clutches.

She had barely made it a few blocks before the lights started flicking out, and he was upon her. Colette didn’t expect it to be that soon.

Colette’s sensors showed zero threats listed in a ten-mile radius. As she sped past a crowd of high-class ‘angels’ she looked back for a split second. Cars had stopped in the middle of the road, lamps went dark, and through it all, a rainbow of lights barreled towards her, knocking through the crowd without a care. They wouldn’t even remember what happened. Of course, her sensors wouldn’t pick him up…

She made a quick turn around a street corner, heading past stands selling Cruxis Co. enhancements. Most were used and probably illegal, but Yggdrasill and Cruxis Co. paid them no mind. As long as their products reached people, even the poor and desperate ones, they’d be under his control. Various limbs and holographic apparel shut down as she zoomed by, legs going limp, eyes going blank, and life itself forgetting it existed for a brief moment.

He was still gaining on her. Colette was desperate. She couldn’t be caught. She couldn’t! Lloyd would…

She sped down the stairs through a crowded subway, trying her best to maneuver through a confused crowd of malfunctioning people. “Sorry, I’m sorry, sorry!” she wailed, bumping against sluggish men, weakened women, and even a few dazed children. At least their memories would be wiped of this moment.

Subway trains took off at a rapid rate. They swarmed through the tunnels like rats in a maze, except they knew where the cheese was and exactly how to get to it as efficiently as possible. Dozens of train routes lit up on Colette’s visor, arriving and departing all throughout Welgaia. She leaped up onto the roof of one that would depart in just a few seconds towards the outskirts of the city.

Colette’s boots magnetized to the metal, and she quickly gained her balance. This was no time to trip. It took off through the tunnels, laced only with neon signs advertising a new and better life with Cruxis Co. augments. She knew this wouldn’t be enough. The holographic wings at her back singed into her spine. It was too hot. She only needed a few minutes…

She leaped across the train cars, ducking underneath the signs, wind and electricity surging through her.

“You know there’s no chance of escape, don’t you?” Yggdrasill called out from behind her, neon lights flickering across his face like a waking nightmare. “You have her data inside you, and she will always be on my radar. You understand?”

Colette had no time to respond, and she didn’t want to anyway. She knew what he meant. Martel’s data had always been inside of her – growing, learning. A primitive neural AI seeing the world through Colette’s eyes, slowly remembering who it was.

Another train was coming. This one wouldn’t be running long. Yggdrasill knew better than to shut the rail system off. It’d cause massive damage, even for his limitless corporation. The moment the other train appeared, nothing more than a flash of purple light, Colette leapt for it, knowing a single mistake would lead to her death. Her boots stuck to metal, and she sprinted yet again across the train cars.

It bought her a few seconds at most, but that was all she could hope for.

“You’re replaceable, you know that?” Yggdrasill’s voice entered her head. “Replaceable, but expensive. And I won’t let you keep her data away from me. I don’t care if she’s an AI. She DESERVES respect.” His shout dazed her, invaded her being. Something stirred inside, shocked and disgusted. The AI witnessed him, but had no way to communicate back.

“When I erase your own worthless data, I’ll finally have her back, and only her. We won’t need the rest of these disgusting primates.”

Colette’s visor lit up with a new target. She hadn’t set this. It wasn’t Yggdrasill either. Was it the AI?...

It pointed to an old abandoned hotel, close to where Lloyd and Colette had docked their ship. She felt a strange yearning, a confusing frustration, as if the AI wanted to explain but merely couldn’t. It didn’t matter. She had no other choice. It was near where Colette had originally intended to run anyways.

“Give her BACK,” the man screamed, his limbs slicing the wind into scorched air at her spine.

It was enough time. Her wings were still in a critical state, but they had cooled enough, they would get her where she needed to go. Her feet left the train’s roof, and her holographic wings shot her away through the tunnels and back into the streets.

Yggdrasill cursed, his limbs wasting time to form back into their winged position as he followed.

 


 

Why here?

Colette slammed through the brittle doors, splinters biting into what exposed skin she had. It didn’t matter. Her wings carried her up the old inefficient steps, decrepit and filled with mold. Just keep moving. Keep moving. Keep moving.

He was here too. The wood creaked underneath his steps; the air burned with his presence. There was no working technology here for him to destroy, there were no sensors, no lights here to aid him in finding her. She dashed through the hallway, trying to keep her feet off the ground as much as possible, for every noise brought him closer.

Neon poured through the windows outside, painting the old dull hotel a rainbow of bright colors, much like Yggdrasill himself. The world outside was him after all, wasn’t it? Here, not so much. If it was part of him, it was a dead part, something he discarded long ago.

Warning lights screamed in her face. Not because of the threat, no, it still didn’t recognize him, but because she was running out of power, because the pain in her spine was blinding her, making it harder and harder to make the right decisions. Colette was tired.

“I’ve had enough of this!” Yggdrasill screamed, the floorboards underneath her exploding into wet dust and rusty nails. Hands reached out for her, grasping at anything they could reach.

This old building couldn’t handle his strength, and neither could she. Colette collapsed through the floor, falling through the weakened wood, her wings completely unresponsive.

“Damn it all!” his voice called out from above, rushing back down through the mess of damp and deteriorating rooms. He didn’t have as much control as he liked.

Bits and pieces of pipe and stone toppled over Colette, crushing her legs. Her sensors were gone. Her visor fizzled away before blaring its emergency warnings, screaming that death was imminent. Darkness swirled around her hungrily, like moths to a flame. Her mind was a haze of circuitry and neon while her mouth tasted nothing but copper. Where was she? Where had she landed? She couldn’t move, her wings weren’t reacting, her body wasn’t her own.

She saw old counters and forgotten luggage; ghosts of a time long gone. Was she back at the bottom? The entrance hall? She could still escape. She tried to wriggle free of the rubble’s grip, tried to crawl, anything. She needed to hurry.

“Look at what you’ve done to her!” he screamed, landing before Colette. Yggdrasill’s once pristine face was a mess of sweat and confusion. He ignored the warning his UI gave him, ignored the warnings against his heightened emotional state. “That body is not yours to play with!”

He wiped the blood from her mouth, checking Colette’s teeth like she was nothing more than a damaged doll. She winced, hand forming into a fist around her last dead chakram. She wouldn’t give up. Something was there beside her, urging her to continue, urging her to escape at any cost. He didn’t wear shields. Either because it conflicted with his Exsphere shutdown effect, or because he simply didn’t feel the need.

The chakram’s edge sliced his face, sending Yggdrasill stumbling backwards, his eyes wide with shock. “What!? How is it you still fight her? How is it you still disobey me?! Martel should be strong enough by now!” He pressed his palm against the blood at his cheek, unbelieving. “She would never have allowed this to happen.”

Colette said nothing. She couldn’t say anything. Her tongue felt bloated. She couldn’t feel her legs, but she kept the dulled edge of her chakram close. Something stirred in the darkness. She wasn’t sure if she was seeing things or not. Nothing was working, nothing was making any sense.

“You must have tainted her,” Yggdrasill said, eyes burning with hate. “You’re a virus. You were meant to be meek, weak-willed, nothing more than a shell to allow my sister to grow into! I should have never even given you the option of choice.”

Her chest heaved. All she could think about was seeing Lloyd again. She had to see Lloyd. Even now, her eyes must have been playing tricks…

“I’ll have to change that then,” Yggdrasill growled, brushing the rubble off her with a deep scowl, blood trickling from his face to the ground, unnoticed. “I can only hope this won’t hurt her.” He picked Colette up by her neck, his hand tightening, squeezing. “If she is so far gone, what choice do I have? Maybe this will bring her back. You need to be erased.”

Colette swung her chakram uselessly. Yggdrasill’s limbs caught it, disarming her in an instant. Still, something burned inside her, visions of Lloyd, of something else. She grabbed his arm; she dug her fingernails into flesh. He bled but did not stop.

“Please come back to me, sister,” he muttered over and over as Colette attempted to cough and sputter. Even that, he would not give her. The world was melting away as she drowned out in the open, unable to scream, unable to stop it. “Please come back to me, sister.”

And then it stopped.

Colette fell to the ground, gasping for dirty air, her lungs on fire, but cooling. Her visor blipped back to life, emergency signs wailing internally, attempting to fix the situation Yggdrasill had put her in.

“What… how did…” He looked down at his chest, a mess of wires and dark liquids, some blood, some of it something else. In between it all was the sheen of polished metal. He toppled down to the floor, his wings writhing, attempting to slash behind his back with futility.

Lloyd gasped, stepping around the broken human form, making sure to stay out of the robotic limbs’ reach. “Colette!” He limped over to her, the other sword in his hand dropping to the floor.

“Lloyd?...” she asked blankly, unsure if she was truly still alive. All her devices were returning with some form of power. Her legs twitched. “How did you…”

“I’m sorry,” he said weakly, falling into her arms. “I-I had Genis implant a special tracking device on you a long time ago… he hid it from your systems, and I never told you about it just in case something like this happened. I wasn’t sure if you knowing would somehow alert Cruxis Co. and allow them to disable it…”

Colette’s arms had already found themselves wrapped around him, stroking his wet and dirtied hair. Lloyd wasn’t wearing any shields, wasn’t wearing any armor of any kind. She wasn’t upset about the tracking device. She didn’t care. “Lloyd, he could have…” and the thought horrified her. It would have been so easy to tear through him without any kind of defenses.

“But he didn’t. He couldn’t see me coming.” He looked up at her, attempting to smirk. “I knew those old relics would come in handy someday.” He looked over to the antique sword on the ground, and the other one still sticking out of Yggdrasill’s writhing back. “He can’t shut those bad boys off. I know dad’d be proud!” He laughed for a second before wincing. “Ow.”

“Lloyd…” Colette picked herself up and Lloyd as well, cradling his bruised body. Pain still screamed through her veins, but her body would move if she told it to. That was all that mattered. “We need to go. He’s… he’s not…”

The wings at Yggdrasill’s back finally gained a hold over the sword at their master’s back, pulling it out like a butter knife and snapping it like a plastic one.

“I figured he wouldn’t die that easily,” Lloyd sighed. “And that was one of dad’s best swords too…”

“I’m sorry,” Colette said.

“Huh? You dork, there’s no way that’s your fault.”

“I, I still am, then!” she said stubbornly, the wings at her back humming to life again. “I, I’m carrying you! I can, um, be sorry if I want!”

Lloyd laughed again, wincing in pain again as well. “Ow, sorry, okay! Let’s just get out of here, we’ll worry about it later.”

Colette nodded. She flew past Yggdrasill, his limbs desperately reaching out as far to touch her, to touch any part of her. They tried so hard, but his motionless, drooling body weighed them down. She would think about that for a long time. Think about how some strange part of her wanted to be touched as well. How she wanted to hold them and apologize.

But that wasn’t her. Or maybe it was. It didn’t matter. She had Lloyd, and the warmth of his body was the only touch she needed, the only touch she wanted. She’d escape to live another day with him, counting each as a blessing, no matter how few they might be.