So, uh, yeah…
Originally wrote this over on BZPower for a contest (which never actually panned out, but meh) in which participants had to take something Lego-related that had potential, but they otherwise dropped the ball on, and rework it into a story or some form of game. Being the masochist that I am, I decided to pick the entire line of Hero Factory and started up a multi-chaptered Epic, only to get bored with it after I posted Chapter 4 way back in October and pretty much ignore its existence entirely.
That is, of course, until now… maybe.
Admittedly, I don’t ever recall it being too terribly popular or anything, and, in all honesty, I very well might lose interest in it again. But hey, that’s why you’re all allowed to post feedback, right?
So without further ado…
So, uh, yeah…
Makuhero City has fallen.
History had recorded the era as a time of peace, a time where beings, both organic and mechanical, lived together in equal parts harmony and prosperity. Crime in the galaxy had been at an all time low, even on planets such as Mechna, which were once notorious for acting as breeding grounds for all manner of criminal activity. For a while, it seemed like the biggest concern of the period was the rising tensions between the robots and the indigenous species they were beginning to outnumber, but even that too died down after a number of years.
And then the infection changed everything.
What started off as the anouncement of a radical new breakthrough in the field of medical technology would soon turn into a tragedy. Civilians, the press, and government officials gathered to witness the unveiling of Hermes One, a revolutionary new revitalisation chamber designed by Makuro Industries to repair any and all damage, no matter the composition of the recipient. By integrating a swarm of programmable nanobots into an injured subject’s system, the device could then command them to reconfigure themselves in order to perfectly replicate or repair missing or damaged mechanical components, or even supercharge cell replication in organics, essentially using their own natural healing processes for the purposes of reversing organ damage and even regenerating lost limbs. Despite the fact that further clinical testing would still be required before it could enter mass production, the news that hospitals all across the known galaxy would soon have this technology at their disposal was understandably well received.
That is, until the miniature reactor powering the machine overloaded, triggering a catastrophic meltdown that both flooded the surrounding area with massive amounts of radiation and reduced it to little more than a smoldering crater.
Disgraced by the public outcry over the incident, Akiyama Makuro quickly withdrew himself from society shortly after evacuation efforts had been completed, though whether it was because he secretly blamed himself or because he desired to avoid it altogether remains unclear. With the death toll confirmed to be in the hundreds, and thousands more either suffering from it’s aftereffects or in need of relocation, the Hermes One Tragedy soon became the largest disaster ever to be recorded within the Makuhero Belt. Years passed, monuments were constructed to honor the casualties, and the destruction was eventually repaired, but the event still left its mark on the hearts and minds of the people, both native and tourist alike.
But despite the fact that most had moved on and put the past behind them, the horror was far from over.
On the morning of the tragedy’s six-year anniversary, television and radio broadcasts across the galaxy were hijacked by an unknown individual, identifying themselves only by the alias of The Puppeteer. At first, they spoke as if they were paying their respects to the victims, leading many to initially believe what they were seeing to be a sponsored memorial tribute of sorts, even though all efforts to trace the source of the transmission by local authorities came up empty. After they had started going into great detail about the technical specifications of Hermes One, however, it soon became clear that this was not the case. Announcing that the “accident” had actually been secretly orchestrated well outside of the public eye and that the reactor installed had been meticulously designed to malfunction, they then revealed the true purpose behind engineering the disaster, and why they had delayed taking responsibility for the attack up until now; they were waiting for the nanobots to spread.astation then went to work carrying them throughout most of Makuhero City, and further modifications to the swarm had left them nigh-undetectable via standard medical equipment. Their advanced design, combined with the reality that they had not been initially designed for such a purpose, resulted in the process advancing extraordinarily slowly to the point where weeks had passed before they could reasonably begin their mission to start jumping from person to person, but it had been well worth the wait. By now, most of the city’s populace had become infected, and since the contagion had not yet become public knowledge, carriers had unknowingly brought them into contact with beings located all across the galaxy via the usage of interplanetary travel, but the kicker had yet to come.
Deciding that the birthplace of the tragedy would be a fitting place to begin their new reign of terror, the feed suddenly cut to the cameras located in the streets of Makuhero City without warning, setting the stage for what was to come next.
The first being to succumb to their activation expired particularly gruesomely, his nanobots devouring him from the inside out until nothing remained of his corpse. Others immediately afterwards became rabid, causing them to turn on the rest and attack random people with whatever they could get their hands on. One organic grew three times their size, their skin taking on the texture and toughness of boulders before effortlessly tossing a shuttle bus into the third floor of a nearby building. The few who were lucky enough to remain uninfected were forced to flee for their lives, taking shelter wherever they could in an attempt to escape from the chaos surrounding them, only to be met with limited success. Within the hour, several off-world emergency response teams had been deployed to the city, most of which found themselves simply overwhelmed as they too became victims of a situation they never had the chance to prepare for. People across the galaxy who were watching the livestream began to riot, fearing that their homes would be the villain’s next target, and governments everywhere knew that they had to act fast before their respective populations suffered the same fate.
Representatives of numerous worlds convened for an entire week, their location kept a closely guarded secret out of fear of reprisal, yet they still failed to produce an agreeable course of action. Some called for massive evacuations, only to be immediately shot down as it didn’t matter where they planned to flee to, since any atmospheric body in range of their communication systems would be fair game to attack. A few called for military action, though this notion too was vetoed as the possibility of their own soldiers being affected and causing even more damage still remained, not to mention that they still lacked the wherabouts of their attacker’s location. One even suggested attempting to establish contact and negotiating with The Puppeteer, but the amount of people willing to humor that idea were even less than the ones willing to speak of it. Days passed by with similar results, leading some to lose hope that a solution would ever present itself.
This would change, however, shortly after Akiyama Makuro’s arrival.
While initially reluctant to here what he had to say, the entire room soon fell silent upon hearing that he had come prepared with an ace up his sleeve. Seeking to restore his ruined reputation, he revealed that the reactor powering Hermes One had secretly contained a substance known as Quaza, a crystal with energy storing properties many decades ago, and had been using as a component for the batteries in his company’s products ever since. What made this material special in this specific case was that any energy being channeled through it emerged purer than when it had originally entered, leaving less of a long-term effect on individuals exposed to it, provided that it was in a raw, unaltered form. This quality was exactly the reason why he had chosen to incorporate the material into his invention to begin with, as so long as the nanobots maintained an opposing charge, the energy field that the device had projected would allow injured beings to safely pass through it without sustaining any further damage while simultaneously containing the active swarm inside of the device itself. Phase One of his plan involved the construction of devices utilising this energy as a means of quarantining the populace at large while preventing the infection from being activated by an outside frequency.
Phase Two, on the other hand, required him to resurrect an idea he had long since set aside due to the era of relative prosperity that had befallen them; the mass production of Quaza-powered peacekeepers, originally designed to aid law enforcement all over the galaxy, who would possess a natural immunity to the machines now threatening their very existence. By extension, these beings could go where others could not while also possessing a greater chance of combating The Puppeteer directly and stopping them once and for all, as the stone’s involvement was never directly mentioned within Hermes One’s schematics. A few of the representatives initially objected to this idea, citing that no singular being should possess control over what could essentially become an army, but with little other options at their disposal, the majority of them had no choice but to agree.
With funding from numerous planetary governments at his disposal and the restoration of his company’s assets, two organisations quickly sprung forth from the ether, both in an an effort to combat The Puppeteer’s villainy and to eradicate it once and for all. The first, known as Justice Apex and led by Makuro’s own protégé, Nessia Vontillius, was responsible for providing worlds with the technology necessary to defend themselves with in secret, and for monitoring feeds in order to track the nanobot activation signals back to their source. The second, dubbed Hero Factory by Akiyama himself, went to work creating their agents and running them through vigorous training simulations in preparation for the battles to come. Working as swiftly and as diligently as they could to protect the galaxy and its inhabitants, the fate of both robots and organics were resting upon their shoulders, driving their every move as they marched on to face their ultimate destinies.
But deep down, however, all they could do was hope that their efforts would not be in vain.
“Forge, I need suppressive fire, ten o’ clock! Dubstep, deploy a sound barrier to put a stop to those sniper rounds!”
“Eat some hot lead, Rookies!,” Forge shouted, rolling out from behind the remains of a ruined building and unloading his Minigun at Sparks, forcing the electric Hero to maneuver herself erratically with her Wing Jets in order to avoid the shots.
Turning his head towards Dubstep, who nodded in confirmation, Blizzard vaulted over the destroyed car he was using for cover and slid across its roof as his teammate slammed his fist into his Hero Core. The transformation was swift, his left arm moving away from its former grip on the Bass Cannon held with his right as the armor around it remolded itself and became thicker, flowing almost seamlessly into the other weapon now being constructed in his recently freed hand.Within seconds, his Sonic Wall Projector had become solid, the energy radiating from his limb transmuting into mass as he fired, protecting both himself and his comrade as they made their advance. Another shot from Twister’s Velocity Rifle whizzed towards his head, only to be deflected away by the vibrations as a blast of composite ice temporarily engulfed one of his Boot Jets and sent him spiraling off into a collision course with a nearby structure. His companion went down not too long afterwards as well, the sonic Hero firing a quick blast towards her midsection and succeeding in knocking her off balance long enough for the hulking brute who had fired at her first to rush forward, leap up, and grab onto her leg with his free hand before using his own weight to spin himself around in midair and chucking her through a second story window.
“Threat neutralised,” he said, shifting his gaze back towards the rest of his team after landing. “Orders?”
“We keep going, and watch our six,” the frost Hero said, readying himself to move on. “Cinder may have sent the rest of her squad ahead to ambush us, but I doubt that that’s the last we’ll see of them. They’re probably falling back to reggroup with their leader as we speak.”
“These blokes just don’t learn, do they? No wonder why they’re falling behind in their lessons,” Dubstep sighed. “Well, I guess now’s the time we go crush all of their hopes and dreams. Again.”
“Pfft. Like there was ever any doubt. So are we going to take the subtle route, or are we marching on over and simply overpowering them this time?”
Taking a moment to consider their options, Blizzard eventually decided that enough was enough.
“Neither,” he said, forming the ice blade of his weapon. “We’re about to go teach them a lesson in humility.”
“Did they take the bait?” Cinder asked, readying her Incindiary Blaster as her Turbine Jets remained idle.
“Of course they did,” Sparks said, attempting to stretch. “Probably knocked a few of our circuits loose in the process as well. Twister got the worst of it, though.”
“Are you still okay enough to fight?” the fire Hero asked, turning her attention towards their team’s sniper.
Wincing as he glanced back up at his partners, he slowly gave them a thumbs up before returning to his feet.
“Then it’s settled,” she said. “We split up and take our positions on the rooftops. That way, no matter which direction they end up coming at us from, we’ll be able to see them long before they have the chance to do the same.”
“Are you sure about this? Every time we’ve split up so far, they’ve systematically sent each and every one of us back to the repair bay,” the electric Hero said warily.
“Sparks, that sounds a lot like you’re beginning to question the decisions of your Team Leader,” Cinder continued, crossing her arms over her chest. “If you want the position for yourself, then I suggest you step up and take it. You two were the ones who elected me, remember?”
The other Hero suddenly became quiet, looking at her feet before delivering a halfhearted kick to the floor.
"That’s what I thought. Okay, Twister, I need you to - "
Before she could even finish her sentence, a grenade launched itself through a nearby window, detonating upon impact with the far wall and sending all three of them scrambling for cover.
“Heads up, Rookies! The Pain Train’s just arrived at the station!” Forge shouted, using his weapon to shred the walls apart from down in the street before finishing what he started with its explosive secondary fire.
Rushing out into the hallway in an effort to regain their composure, the team quickly attempted to determine a new strategy.
“They’re blitzing us?!” Sparks yelled, ducking to the side as a stray round emerged from the area just beside her head. “Cinder, what’s our plan?!”
“Calm down and think things through!” the fire Hero responded. “If they’ve sent Forge ahead to draw our attention, then Blizzard and Dubstep must be planning to flank us! Twister, you take point! Sparks, watch our backs! We’re bugging out!”
Weaving their way through the structure’s various corridors, the wind Hero eventually signaled for the others to stop as they approached a large, half destroyed conference room.
“We can exit through here and take up our positions,” he said, pointing towards the structures within their veiw as he broke his unusually long silence. "They’ll be expecting to hit us inside where we have less room to evade.
“Shouldn’t we stick together? We’ll have a better chance of being able to defend ourselves from whoever they send in after us,” the electric Hero said.
“In these conditions, the only thing we’d succeed in doing would be getting in each other’s way,” Cinder replied, turning her attention back towards her other teammate. “If we spread out, we reduce the probability of them hitting all of us at once. Twister, you’re up. See if you can circle back around and take out Forge while we try to flush out the others.”
Activating his Boot Jets and preparing to exit the building, Twister took off into the sky… only to find himself flying straight into a wall of sound as Dubstep popped out from behind cover, revealing his position on the third floor of a ruined shop across the street.
“Strike Two, mates!” he shouted, dissipating it just long enough to line up a flawless shot from his Bass Cannon, which ended up hitting his foe square in the chest not too long afterwards, pushing him back inside.
Barely giving him enough time to recover as he was tossed past them like a ragdoll, Sparks quickly returned fire with her EMP Launcher in an effort to disable his weaponry while Cinder aimed her weapon at the ceiling above the sonic Hero in an attempt to bring it down on him. With their comrade on the ground, and their attention diverted elsewhere, none of the Rookies noticed the bright flash of light making its way around the corner behind them until it was far too late. Twister was the first to go down, considering that he was still trying to stand when the first shot was fired, leaving him barely enough time to change his facial expression as he was encased in solid ice. Sparks followed soon afterwards, managing to cry out as a blast of coolant impacted her lower back, but in the end, she too shared the same fate. Cinder, upon hearing this, turned around as fast as she could, only to be rammed with her foe’s shield, causing her to lose her grip on her Incindiary Blaster as it began its descent towards the streets below. Landing on her back and sliding across the floor, she desperately threw her arm up in one final defiant act of self-preservation, only to hear Blizzard’s last words before she became a cybernetic popsicle.
“Checkmate,” the frost Hero said coldly. “Simulation’s over. You lose.”
"But that’s completely unfair! Just give us another chance, and we’ll - "
“I’m sorry, Cinder, but you and your team were given all the opportunities we could afford you,” Mr. Makuro stated. “Despite the greatness I had originally envisioned for you when I oversaw your assembly, Hero Factory protocols are quite strict when it comes to agents who are flunking out of the program. I’m affraid that your lack of improvement leaves me no other choice but to terminate your involvement with this organisation.”
“You can’t do that! You built us to help people! You owe it to them to keep training us! Think of the lives you’d be putting at risk!”
“I am,” he said solomnly. “And I will not send anyone out into the field who isn’t properly trained. I’ve made up my mind, Cinder. You and your teammates are hereby relieved of duty. I’ll allow you as much time as is necessary for you to clean out your lockers and say your goodbyes, and I’ll see that the three of you shall be well taken care of in the event that you choose to apply for positions within Justice Apex, but after today, you will no longer be permitted entry onto this station. I apologise for not being able to give you the time you need, but we can no longer expend our resources on a squad that is incapable of showing any signs of improvement. Hopefully, the three of you will take all of the effort you’ve applied here and put it to good use towards your future endeavors.”
Unable to contain her anger any longer, she forced the palms of her hands onto the surface of his desk, causing the elderly robot to finally look up from her team’s file and establish eye contact.
“And hopefully, you come up with a better excuse for why you don’t have enough deployable Heroes when people start dying again.”
Spinning around on her heels, she headed towards the exit of his office, slamming the door with enough force to shatter the glass displaying the name of the room’s primary occupant on her way out.
Cupping his face in his hands before shaking his head, he let out a sigh as the miniature cleaning bots emerged from the walls and began to take care of the mess left in Cinder’s wake.
“Where did I go wrong with her?” he said, mostly to himself.
“Permission to speak freely, sir?” Blizzard finally chimed in from his position leaning against the wall.
“Sir, I’ve been telling you for quite some time that the difficulty curve of the simulations in general was way too high. Over half of the Heroes you create wash out during their first month of training alone, and out of those who don’t, another third are expected to within the first six. At this rate, we’ll only have a handful of viable teams by year’s end.”
“And what do you propose I do, Agent Blizzard? It’s bad enough that I have to live with the fact that I’m knowingly sending people to their deaths. The least I can do to make up for that is by ensuring they expect exactly what I’ve gotten them into.”
“With all due respect, Sir, each and every one of us knew what we were getting ourselves into long before we even signed on with this outfit. Nobody’s forcing us to be here, no one has magnetised our weapons to our hands, and we’ve still decided to stick around, despite all of the exercises specifically designed to metaphorically murder us in almost every conceivable way imaginable. We were the the ones who decided to risk our lives, both here, and at Justice Apex, not you, and let’s face it; not many people are willing to do that in the first place. You need all the help you can get.”
"Perhaps… perhaps you are - " Mr. Makuro began before his attention was suddenly diverted elsewhere.
Without warning, all of the station’s alarms were set off at once, dimming the lights and forcing the two robots to look at each other in confusion. Hurried footsteps could be heard from outside as people scrambled throughout the halls, causing the pair to briefly wonder what exactly was going on before a call came in over the P.A. system, confirming their darkest fears.
“Code Red. I repeat, we have a Code Red. Everyone to your stations. This is not a drill.”
“Blizzard, what’s the status of your team?”
“Recharged and ready to go. Awaiting orders to head down to Mission Control, sir.”
“Good,” the elderly robot said. “Suit yourselves up and get moving. Now.”
“Kollix IV; arctic homeworld of creatures long since driven to extinction, now the location of numerous mining depots and fuel reserves just waiting to be exploited and shipped all over the galaxy. You have shown no courtesy to those who had come before you, and have proceeded to take their planet as your own and strip it of its natural resources in order to ensure the continuation of your ever gluttonous societies. I, however, refuse to follow in the footsteps of parasites, and choose to offer those responsible a shot at redemption… but that shot comes at the cost of your employees’ blood. Say goodbye to your livelihoods, your friends, and most importantly, your families, wage slaves. You won’t be seeing them again.”
The recording droned on, mirroring the last as chaos erupted, cutting to the security cameras littered throughout the various facilities and featuring the same distorted voice of The Puppeteer while continuing to lack an image of the perpetrator in question. Diverting the feed onto another monitor, Zib quickly enlarged their view of Justice Apex’s interior bridge, allowing for easier communications between the groups’ respective leaders.
“Nessia, was anyone on your end able to successfully trace this?” the inventor asked, daring to hope that they could put a stop to this nightmare once and for all.
“Unfortunately, no,” his apprentice sighed, displaying a forlorn look as she delivered the news. “Whoever this “Puppeteer” is, they’ve had the foresight to channel their signal throughout almost every known server in the galaxy before using it for its intended purpose. Honestly, I haven’t seen anything even remotely like it since I stopped working on the Vekna Five prototype.”
“Vekna Five?” Blizzard asked quizzically, clearly annoyed that he wasn’t in the loop.
“One of Nessia’s former projects, originally designed to aid Heroes by discretely monitoring events across various planets in an effort to mobilise squads faster, if I recall correctly,” he explained. “But that was long before the Hermes One Tragedy, and it never entered pre-production due to numerous… ethical reasons.”
“At least it wasn’t a stupid hotline,” Dubstep interjected. “I may be a fan of sonic weaponry, but even I wouldn’t want to be trapped in a room filled with hundreds of ringing communicators. That would just be irritating as slag.”
Someone coughed in the distance, but despite further inspection, the disturbance’s source of origin remained unknown.
“Back to the matter at hand,” Zib scowled, none too pleased with the disruption. “Justice Apex has just finished quarantining the planet’s entire mining facilities, meaning their ready to send in squads to contain the situation and begin searching for any survivors. We’ve also finished working out the bugs in the Stasis Grenades since our original beta testing, so each and every Hero will be outfitted with them as well. If there’s still a chance that we can help those affected, we owe it to them to at least try, so kill only as a last resort. Dropships leave within the hour, people, so let’s get going.”
“Justice Apex, this is Alpha-Zero-One, requesting permission to land. Over,” the pilot said into his radio, awaiting the proper clearance to do so.
“Alpha-Zero-One, we read you. Disengaging a portion of the Quaza Dome. Over and out.”
“Okay,” Blizzard said, forcing a fresh clip into his weapon. “Let’s go over the plan once again. Squads Beta, Gamma, and Delta are tackling the facilities on the west end of the complex. Epsilon, Zeta, and Eta are breaching from the east. That leaves us with the central control tower. Once inside, we secure our extraction point, dealing with any hostiles as we encounter them. From there, we begin our search for survivors, leading them back outside for evacuation before finishing our sweep of the area. Forge, you take point while Dubstep covers our flank. If either of you see anything that so much as looks at you funny, neutralise first and ask questions later. We’ll be landing in a few minutes, so prepare yourselves.”
As he finished his sentence, the cargo hold began to shake violently, tossing anything and everything that wasn’t strapped down into the air before crashing back into the floor.
“Where’d you get your pilot’s license, mate? A bloody amusement park?” Dubstep shouted towards the robot in control of the ship.
“We’ve hit a bit of turbulence!” he yelled back. “That’s what happens when you try to land in the middle of a storm!”
Grabbing the receiver once again, he quickly attempted to reestablish contact with the forces on the ground.
“Justice Apex, this is Alpha-Zero-One! We need to divert our course towards the secondary landing zone! I repeat, diverting course to secondary LZ!”
Static poured through the speakers for a few seconds, forcing him to try again.
"Justice Apex, do you read me? We need to - "
“You should not have come here, Heroes.”
A large beam of energy from down below suddenly shot towards them, parting the sky as it tore through one of the ship’s wings and severely damaged an thruster, causing them to spiral uncontrollably into a collision course with the ice and snow.
“Mayday! Mayday! We’ve just been attacked, and are coming in for a hard landing!” the pilot screamed in vain.
“This is why I hate flying in ships!” Forge growled, gritting his teeth and gripping the armrests of his seat for dear life.
“Alpha, brace for - !”
Before Blizzard could say another word, his vision went black, enveloping him in darkness as he was deprived of conciousness.
“Sweeping the area now, Lord Infernicus. No signs of any… survivors.”
“Keep searching, and watch your back, Blasthammer,” the voice spoke back over his comlink. “We have enough to worry about as is without these so-called “Heroes” aiming to meddle in our affairs. When you find them, you are to ensure that nothing remains but scrap metal; our work is far to important to be suffering setbacks of any kind.”
“Roger that,” the monster of a machine responded, crushing a piece of the destroyed dropship’s armor beneath his foot as he primed his weapons. “Over and out.”
Sifting through the debris, it wasn’t long before he was able to find his first signs of life. Hearing his struggling quarry attempt to free himself from beneath the piece of wreckage pinning him to the ground, Blasthammer quickly stalked towards him, effortlessly tossing it aside with one hand as he proceeded to grasp the crown of the Hero’s head and suspend him in the air with the other.
“Well, well, well,” he growled, tightening his grip as Blizzard desperately tried to escape. “What do we have here?”
“And who are you supposed to be?” the Alpha Leader said through gritted teeth. “What’s your connection to The Puppetmaster?”
“You should be more worried about yourself, Hero,” the Villain said, charging the Seismic Jackhammer mounted on his wrist. “I’m about to crack open that core of yours and see just what exactly makes you tick.”
“Beta Team, checking in.”
“Copy that, Flora. Proceed with your primary objectives.”
“Has BlIzzard’s squad checked in yet? We caught bits and pieces of what appeared to be a distress signal, but the storm has been causing havoc on most of our transmissions,” she asked.
“Not yet, but we’ll keep you posted when he does.”
Her face displaying a look of worry, she eventually nodded attempted to return her focus to the task at hand. As soon as the feed cut out, however, someone else soon began to start voicing their own concerns.
“Sir, every team so far has checked in… all except Alpha,” Zib said. “Requesting that Justice Apex form a search party to go look for them as we speak.”
“Cancel that message,” Mr. Makuro responded.
“Sir, with all due respect, they could be in danger, injured, or even worse,” the Mission Control manager stated. “Despite what we’ve just sent them into, we still have a responsibility to ensure the safety of our operatives!”
The elderly bot fell silent for a moment.
“Zib, are you aware of how the individual squads earn their titles?”
"Of course I am, but what does that have to do with - "
“Upon being cleared for field duty, teams are given a unique call sign based on their overall performance within the simulations. This helps us determine which roles each particular group would be best suited for in order to complete missions in the most efficient way possible. To this day, only one other team has even come close to qualifying for the position of Alpha, and believe it or not, you just finished speaking to their leader.”
“I’ve seen Beta’s test scores, sir, and I am well informed of how capable they are as a unit,” he explained. “But just because you have a contingency plan on standby, that doesn’t give us the right to just abandon them like this.”
“You misunderstand. Beta was never meant to be a replacement for Alpha; quite the opposite actually,” the inventor continued. “While Beta may have scored higher in some areas, the reason why Blizzard, Forge, and Dubstep were granted the position of Alpha was almost entirely because of their consistent adaptability, meaning that they could take on the duties of another squad in addition to their own if the situation at hand ever deemed it necessary for them to do so. Because of this trait, they are more than capable of handling anything thrown their way, so if something had befallen them, they’re probably in the midst of dealing with the incident as we speak.”
“And if they aren’t?”
“Then by all means, finish your transmission if you truly think it best. But when Blizzard returns, demanding to know why we risked even more innocent lives on their behalf, I’m going to point him in your direction. I’ve already had to take care of one mess in my office today, and I’d rather not repeat the process anytime soon.”
“You mean this core?” Blizzard asked, slamming his fist into his chest as he accessed the blueprints for his Coolant Blaster. “Dubstep, now!”
“Surprise, mate!” the sonic Hero shouted, jumping onto the Villain’s back and wrapping his arms around his neck.
“Get off of me!,” Blasthammer bellowed, flailing aroubd violently as he tried to pry apart the Alpha Team member’s grip.
Seizing the opportunity provided by the distraction, the frost Hero leveled his newly formed weapon towards his assailant’s wrist and squeezed the trigger, freezing the appendage before forming the blade of his Composite Ice Launcher and using it to shatter everything from the elbow down. Enraged by the loss of his limb, the machine proceeded to charge up his weapon and slam it into the ground, creating a firey shockwave with himself at the center and generating enough force to knock both Heroes back into the snow.
“I’m going to enjoy dismantling the two of you!”
“Two?!,” Forge shouted, stepping out from behind the ruined dropship and leveling his Minigun at the aggressor. “Who said anything about two?!”
A hailstorm of bullets exploded from the rotating barrels, leaving flames of their own in their wake before pelting the Villain’s armor and driving him backwards as they ricocheted through the air. Recovering from the assault as best as he could by grabbing a piece of the ship’s armor and using it as a shield, his comlink sparked to life once again, momentarily distracting him from the battle.
“Blasthammer, report,” the voice on the other end demanded.
“Currently engaging three Heroes in combat, Lord Infernicus. Will report back when they have met their demise.”
“Negative. Retreat and rendezvous with Torchmite to await further instructions.”
“I don’t need Torchmite! I can take care of this myself!”
“Need I remind you of the consequences should we fail? You have your orders. I expect you to follow them.”
Cursing under his breath, the Villain slammed the armor plate into the snow to protect himself before grabbing a leaking fuel cell, charging it with his powers, and tossing it towards his targets.
“Choke on this!”
Scrambling for cover in order to avoid the ensuing explosion, the trio were surprised to learn that their enemy had somehow managed to escape while they were taking time to recover.
“What the bloody heck was that?!,” Dubstep exclaimed, still picking himself up out of the snow.
“It appears that this Puppetmaster has friends,” Forge said aloud. “This wasn’t in any of the simulations.”
“Well that’s just great! What are we supposed to do now?”
“Get a hold of yourself!,” Blizzard barked before turning his attention to Forge. “What’s our status?”
“The radio was destroyed when the ship went down, so calling in backup would be out of the question even if the weather did decide to pick up.”
“And the pilot?”
The large Hero fell silent for a moment before solemnly shaking his head.
“Alright, Alpha, listen up! Lack of radio contact and additional hostiles aside, there are still civilians that need rescuing, and like it or not, we’re the only ones available to do it. Dubstep, I want you to stay behind and try to make this area as safe as possible. Forge, you and I will be going on ahead to locate any survivors before leading them back here. We may not be able to evacuate them ourselves anymore, but if we can get the ship’s tracking beacon back online, then Mission Control will have our coordinates, and they’ll be able to send out one of the other teams to come look for us once the situation’s contained.”
“They took my arm! Surely we aren’t just going to let them get away with this!,” Blasthammer roared.
“And you were given a replacement,” Lord Infernicus responded coldly, gazing at the barren landscape that chose to greet him from the other side of the large, oversized window. “I care not for your petty grudge, underling, but if your actions ever jeopardise our mission in any way, a missing appendage will be the least of your problems.”
“I told you he’d say no,” Torchmite said maniacally, his small frame flittering through the air with his wings. “If he wasn’t going to let me roast a few of the prisoners alive, then he’s certainly not going to let you run off to go pick a fight with the Heroes.”
“Shut your hole, gnat!,” the Villain shouted, backhanding him across the face and sending him crashing into the floor. “I didn’t ask for your opinion!”
Before things could go any further, a pillar of black flames shot up between them, causing Torchmite to cower in fear as Blasthammer simply snorted and haulted his advance.
“The two of you have both know what I’m capable of, so I suggest that you get back to prepping our captives for transport before I decide to give you another taste of my power.”
Turning his head to glance back towards his minions and revealing his horned visage, he let the corners of his mouth curl up into a devilish grin as thoughts of mechanical carnage danced across his mind.
“And trust me; when I’m finished, whatever The Puppeteer has in store for them will pale in comparison.”
Approaching the perimeter of the mining facility, Blizzard signaled for Forge to halt his advance as he quickly took cover bejind a section of the recently, partially destroyed outer wall. Holstering his weapon before pulling out his binnoculars, he began scanning the nearby area for any potential signs of life, eventually coming to a stop over a window belonging to one of the station towers so he could read the message that had been frantically painted across its interior surface with an unknown substance.
Alive inside. Uninfected. Send help.
“Alpha Leader, checking in. Possible evidence of survivors. Proceding to check it out. Over.”
“Copy that,” Dubstep replied over his comlink. “Extraction zone should be secured by the time you return. Over and out.”
“According to the layout we were provided, that’s Tower Three, responsible for shipping and containment,” Forge stated, activating his holo-map. “If we still had our ship, we could’ve just landed on the roof and descended a few floors to reach that room in particular.”
“And now that we don’t?”
The silver Hero grimaced, zooming out for a more expanded view of the work site.
“Each tower is connected to one another by a series of bridges located on the seventh, fourteenth, and twenty-first floors; we could easily fly up to one of them and do some aerial reconnaissance along the way, though we’ll be sitting ducks if our new “friend” decides to show up again, and we’ll still need to find another way back down if we run into any civilians up there. Otherwise, we’ll either have to circle around to the other side, or…”
“Cut down through the quarry,” the frost Hero interrupted, turning his attention towards the massive gaping hole amidst the ice and snow.
“Exactly. Numerous passages and shafts were carved all throughout the inside, allowing the miners and technicians to access key areas much more easily from nearly anywhere within the complex. According to this, we should have multiple routes at our disposal, all sufficiently out of sight, all ultimately leading to our intended destination. But there is a downside; we have no idea what might also be down there waiting for us either, which might create even more problems when we’ll eventually need to get back out.”
“You said so yourself, Forge; flight would only leave us open to another attack, and circling our way around will just end up wasting even more time that those survivors might not even have to begin with,” Blizzard said, drawing his weapon once again as he prepared to move forward. “So unless you’re planning on pulling another ship out of your exhaust ports, the quarry’s the only other sensible option we have left.”
Rapelling their way down the ice and stone, the two Heroes eventually came to a stop on a ledge overlooking the bottom of the artificial chasm. A preliminary scan of the area revealed no initial signs of life, organic or robotic, amongst the abandoned machinery and harvesting equipment, leaving the duo with an uneasy feeling of isolation.
“Watch your back,” Blizzard spoke quietly, completing his descent by sliding the rest of the way down. “Despite what our readings say, I’d rather not be caught off-guard.”
“According to the map, the most direct route to our objective leads through… there,” Forge responded, looking up from his wrist only to point out a nearby tunnel, the entrance currently being blocked off by a shipping container still attached to the crane that placed it there stationed three levels above them.
“Any alternative paths?”
“Good news? Yes. Bad news? Scans show evidence of collapse within all of them, so unless you happened to have brought a shovel with you, it’s highly unlikely that we’d be able to use any of them to our advantage.”
“Perfect,” the frost Hero sighed, shaking his head as he stepped towards the object in question. “I’ll start climbing and see whether or not we can get this thing moved. You stay here and hold this position.”
Hoisting himself up above the crate, he quickly made a grab for the support cable, eventually pulling his body onto the neck of the vehicle after a few minutes of strenuous activity. Shimmying his way down to the chassis, he leaned to the side, opening the door to the cab before swinging his way into the operator’s seat.
“Uh, Forge?,” he said, talking into his comlink. “We have a problem. There’s no key for this thing.”
“Want me to come help you look for it?”
“Negative. It’ll be quicker if I… slag.”
“Just had a look at the underside of this control panel, and all the wires are completely melted. Whoever was using this thing last clearly didn’t want anyone else to.”
“I could call in my missile launcher and try blasting it apart, but we’d run the risk of causing structual damage to the tunnel as well. If I had access to some breaching charges, I could safely plant them around the edges and create an opening for us to get through. See if you can find any up there before climbing back down.”
“Already on it,” Blizzard responded, stepping back outside and spotting a trail of foul-smelling liquid that had been dripped across what otherwise appeared to be freshly fallen snow. “Checking up on a potential lead as we speak. I’ll leave the comlink on just in case I get into trouble.”
Following the strange path that had been seemingly laid out before him, the frost Hero ceased his journey for a moment, stopping to gaze into the network of tunnels that the substance eventually led into. Taking a second to pull up a map of his own and noticing that his current position wasn’t too far off from a marked explosives cache, he had just about finished plotting his route when he heard what sounded like screaming echoing throughout the maze of seemingly endless twists and turns. Reaching for his weapons as he quickly ducked inside, he dashed towards the source of the disturbance, only to skid around an oncoming corner and widen his eyes in horror as he nearly barreled into the corpse of an unfortunate miner, staked to a wall with a pickaxe that had been rather violently driven through their torso, irreparably damaging their power source in the process. Upon further examination, the tip of the tool had narrowly missed the miniature Quaza Battery installed into the victim’s chest, its faint glow further illuminating the passage and casting even more light on the grisly scene he was faced with. Despite the mixture of coolant, acid, and hydraulic fluid pooling up around his feet, however, Blizzard’s reaction went no further. Aside from the hyper-realism and extreme attention to detail present within the simulations, both Hero Factory and Justice Apex trainees were also required to participate in live-fire exercises taking place within the “safer” areas of the Makuhero City Quarentine Zone, so this was far from his first time being exposed to such carnage. Assuming that he had simply arrived too late to be of any assistance, and that whoever - or whatever - had gotten to them was now long gone, he started to turn back, preparing to once again pursue his primary objective as he continued on his way.
Unfortunately, however, he didn’t realise exactly how wrong he was until a second piercing shriek filled his audio receptors, this one not only much closer than before, but also accompanied by a pair of distressed voices.
“W-we’re surrounded! No, no, no, no, no!”
“Ma’am, panicking isn’t going to do us any good right now! For the moment, they can’t reach us, so we should have enough time to plan out our next move. Fighting our way through them is no longer an option!”
“You think? They killed Dax!”
“Look, I know he was your friend, but there was nothing we could do for him! Right now, our immediate priority should be focusing on our own survival!”
Speeding towards the direction of the frantic conversation, the frost Hero soon found himself entering a substantially larger chamber, only to immediately duck behind a nearby support column in an effort to not draw any attention towards his arrival and alert the room’s other occupants to his presence. Realising that he was in a situation where he lacked enough intel to properly come up with a plan, yet acquiring said knowledge without exposing his position would be virtually impossible, he activated his core yet again, this time selecting the blueprint for his Reconnaissance Arm before watching the plating of the limb that had formerly carried his shield completely remold itself before his very eyes. Seconds later, three fully functioning drones sprang forth from the ether, silently taking to the air as they immediately began feeding information directly to his HUD, informing him of exactly what kind of scenario he was about to walk into.
Located in the center of the massive cave system was an exposed cargo lift that reached high up towards the semi-natural ceiling, which, contrary to the rust and other obvious signs of neglect, was at least partially functional, as evidenced by the fact that its platform was still being suspended in mid-air and was acting as a temporary sanctuary to the two beings currently residing on top of it. The first, a robot, had idly tucked herself away into one of the corners, hugging her knees and shaking like a leaf despite her winter attire. Noticing that her parka was absolutely drenched in coolant and hydraulic fluid, but seeing no wounds, he simply chalked her condition up to a combination of the already frigid temperatures and possible mental trauma before turning his attention to the second. Peering over the side of the railing was a feminine figure of an odd appearance, one that was clearly constructed out of metal, yet molded as if to mirror a particular species of organic. Aside from the additional armor plating that had been secured to their frame, this one sported an outfit similar to that of the first, although, surprisingly, they were also packing enough heat to make even Forge envious.
But the real obstacle in this scenario would clearly be getting around the cluster of infected gathering around beneath them, mindlessly reaching upwards and shaking their tools as they stained the ground with the viscous black ooze that was leaking from their bodies.
Tightening his grip on his weapon as he finalised his plan of attack, he took a deep breath, closing his eyes as he felt his hand begin to cup itself around one of his many Stasis Grenades. Moments later, it was flying through the air in what seemed like slow motion, the countdown lights blinking purple one by one as they signaled the arrival of the inevitable chaos that would soon follow. Before anyone had even an inkling of what was about to happen, eight hostiles found themselves frozen in time and space, the ensuing detonation attracting the attention of the rest of their deranged brethren as Blizzard popped out of hiding, leveling his blaster and firing off a few well-placed rounds of coolant. Adding insult to injury, the drones quickly began dive-bombing the crowd, raining stun bolts down from the sky and dropping the beings almost as fast as they could turn around to face him. Hearing the commotion below, the two survivors simply observed the battle from their position on the elevator, daring to hope that they were being presented with a way out of their current predicament.
“What’s going on down there?,” the first cried out.
“Looks like the calvary’s finally arrived,” said the second, drawing her rifle as she prepared to provide additional support. “Hang back while I lay down some cover-fire!”
“Don’t bother!,” the frost Hero shouted, encasing the nearest hostile in ice as another rushed towards his flank, sinking their teeth through his armor and into his arm before having the stock of his weapon smashed across their cranium. “Just stay where you are and conserve your ammo!”
“Like slag I will! Face it, Popsicle-Brain, you need all the help you can get!”