Carrying Savannah Whitesmith's body in his arms, Chris could barely focus. The pouring rain was causing him to feel extremely hot and tired, with his thoughts rarely forming anything coherent. The weather was finally making him feel his age, and he was more damaged than he had originally thought. Chris understood that he didn't have much longer: his system was beginning to short circuit, and he would soon crash. While Alchemilia Corporation was likely still on his trail, he didn't care anymore.
Although he had only been in the outskirts for a short time, Silivia had fallen into chaos during his absence. Though it was heavily raining, fires raged through crumbling buildings as rubble poured from their walls into the streets. Bodies of soldiers and civilians were scattered across the street, soaked red with blood and rainwater. People stood in groups, holding each other and crying, as rescue teams worked through the rubble. In the sky, large carriers were visible. They were heading away from the city and flying south.
Pausing on a sidewalk, Chris watched one of the rescue teams. Eventually, one of the workers stopped and noticed him standing there.
"I need some help," Chris managed to say.
Unable to hear him, the man appeared confused and began to climb down the rubble. Once he was standing on the road, he walked over to Chris. He appeared to be in his thirties and wore a yellow hazard suit.
"I need help! My friend is dead!"
The man glanced at Savannah and nodded. "I'm sorry for your loss. The hospital has started taking bodies. You should take her there, and then get some rest. I'm sure you served her well during her life."
Following the man's directions, Chris could finally see the hospital looming in the distance. It was large and had several floors, with a gray exterior that showed hundreds of windows. In the front of the hospital, a large crowd had assembled. Feeling hopeful, Chris began to run towards them. As he started to get closer, his vision flickered out. While it returned in an instant, Chris started to feel more tired and suddenly didn't have the strength to keep moving. Feeling weak, he crumpled to the ground, dropping Savannah. His vision went out.
Sitting in the passenger's seat, Atticus watched as various buildings flashed by. It was the dead of the night. The lack of traffic allowed the boys to develop a sense of freedom.
Late at night., the city was lit up. Streetlights on every corner and then some. It was a sight to see for any tourist — even the residents could enjoy its beauty.
"We're almost there," his companion stated. The boy was close to his age, with buzzed brown hair. However, his face was blurry and Atticus couldn't make sense of any of his defining facial features.
"Good, I can't wait," Atticus replied, holding up a large bundle of cash.
"Wow, you really got that much? How did you convince your dad to give you that?" The boy swerved onto a new road and started speeding up.
"I didn't, I asked my mom for it and gave a bullshit excuse. Of course, she believed it," Atticus started laughing. Before anything else was said, the scene became blurry and eventually shifted to a new one. This time, Atticus was leaning against a park bench, with two teenagers sitting beside him. One was a black-haired girl, while the other was a dark-skinned young man. Similar to the first boy, Atticus failed to recognize either of them.
"Are you serious?" the girl asked. "We talked about this before."
"I did something stupid, I gotta go. I don't have a choice."
"I understand," the boy spoke up, motioning for Atticus to sit down. "But you don't have to leave just because your dad is angry at you. He'll get over it."
"No, he won't, not this time."
"I don't want to explain, I've made my decision. I'm leaving tonight."
"Atticus, come on... Is he dead?" A female voice suddenly interrupted Atticus' dream.
Wincing as he opened his eyes, Atticus noticed that he was laying in a bed, with Marshall seated on one beside him. They were in a decently sized white room that had various tables, cabinets and a small TV attached to the wall. At the end of their beds, standing in the middle, he noticed Melissa was there, her forehead furrowed in concern.
"Melissa?" he asked, his voice hoarse and dry. "Are we... in a hospital?"
"No, this is the carnival," Marshall interjected. The boy furiously flipped through the TV channels, station after station. "We were attacked by angels. Big ones. And if the pigs hadn't shown up when they did, we'd be dead by now. Bastards."
"Yeah," Melissa said, sighing. "I don't understand what happened, but it's a mess out there. I'm just glad to see you guys again. Marshall explained to me everything that has happened since, well, since we were in the woods. It's good to see you again."
"But how did you find us?" Atticus rubbed his eyes, attempting to sit upwards before a sharp pain in his left leg made him stop. Glancing down, he noticed a bandage wrapped around his knee.
"Savannah and I made it here shortly after we separated from the two of you," Melissa explained, sitting on the end of Atticus' bed. "We saw the announcement about Chris and decided to look for him. We split up, and I haven't seen her since."
"Melissa was looking for Savannah in the hospital after the attack," Marshall said. "That's how she found us."
"Okay. I assume there hasn't been any contact from Savannah or Chris?"
"No," Melissa said, frowning. "And I'm worried they got caught up in the disorder outside."
"Or worse. Alchemilia workers tried to arrest us earlier, we managed to get away due to the angels."
"You might wanna watch this. The pigs are talking," Marshall pointed towards the TV. A press conference was being held, and a tall, dark-haired man approached a podium. As he prepared to speak, his name flashed at the bottom of the screen.
Governor Theodore Rosington.
Behind him, Gabriel Arsene and another man were seen. Arsene was dressed in a dark red suit, patiently waiting as the governor started.
"What's going on?" Melissa asked. "Why is he there?"
No one answered as they continued to watch.
"Good evening. It's heartbreaking to come to you at a time like this. Earlier today, the Sabaoth launched an attack on our city. We were caught off guard by the unprovoked assault. However, we were quick to respond, with aerial retaliation ready within minutes. Alchemilia Corporation was informed of the attack and promptly joined in the city's defense.
"With this amount of force, we had the angels retreating within forty minutes. However, this is no time for celebration. We've lost countless lives. While the death toll hasn't been officially tallied yet, it's believed to be in the hundreds. Damage across the city will take many months, if not years, to repair. Critical public services may be impeded over the next few weeks as we manage the aftermath of this crisis.
"Yet we shall persist. Silivia has withstood centuries of conflict and strife, even before the time of angels and demons. I'd like to conclude by welcoming my great friend, Gabriel Arsene. Without him, we would have been alone in this battle." Gabriel walked forward and stopped when he was at Rosington's side.
"Thank you, Governor Rosington. For the first time in three hundred years, we have been attacked on our own soil. The angels have breached man's greatest stronghold, but I implore you all to look forward. Yes, the war that had seemed so far away has come to our front doors. But we are not fighting this battle on our own.
"Security measures may seem extreme in the coming months. I understand the frustration many of you will no doubt feel. The Sabaoth — the angels' military — hit us for forty minutes and retreated with most of their forces intact. This was a preliminary strike; They will return, and we must be stronger when they do. In light of this recent event, I'd like to mention that Alchemilia Corporation will be suspending our recent activity here and focus on other tasks, such as enhancing security."
"We'll take a few questions now," Rosington announced.
As the camera showed a crowd of journalists, a blonde woman in the midst of it raised her hand. Her name, Danica Bash, briefly flashed.
"During the Sabaoth's attack, we heard reports about Alchemilia chasing two suspects through the city. Is there any information to give on this?"
"You shouldn't believe everything you hear," Gabriel answered, laughing.
At this point, Marshall turned the television off.
There was a pause, all three lost in their own heads. Finally, Melissa stood up suddenly and walked to the door.
"I'll go find your doctor or something, we can work on getting you guys out of here."
Not seconds after Melissa had left the room, she returned with a nurse.
The nurse was holding a clipboard and dressed in sand green scrubs. "I'm glad to see you're awake now, Mr...?"
"Uh, Anoethite," Atticus responded.
"Good. Let me just do a few quick checkups, see how you're doing. How do you feel?"
"Tired," Atticus answered. "Woozy. Like I woke up from a really long nap."
The nurse nodded as she listened. Melissa stood behind, trying to catch a peek as the nurse took Atticus's blood pressure, pulse and checked his breathing.
"I'll have you stay for a bit longer, just to monitor you because your blood pressure is a bit low. Do you want me to call your parents?"
"No, thank you."
Atticus paused, thinking about his dream and the mention of his parents.
The nurse frowned in confusion and turned to Melissa and Marshall.
"You kids want to stay a bit?"
"Yes," Melissa said, while Marshall shrugged.
The nurse exited the room, humming an unfamiliar song, and Marshall scowled at Atticus.
"Get better quickly. I want to get out of this hellhole."
On a red operating table, Chris awoke from his slumber. The room around him was spacious but sparsely decorated, with power tools and metal limbs hanging on the walls. On either side of him were what appeared to be deactivated androids, both missing any human features. His clothes were gone, and he now wore a hospital gown. Chris raised his hands, seeing synthetic human skin covering his mechanical skeleton. Curious, he deployed his sword.
Nearby, a man stood from his computer and approached Chris. He was young and had tanned skin, with dark hair and eyes. The table showcased his work: motors and actuators with various wires laid strewn around the counters. Schematics and notes littered about, showing the android's status.
"Good, you're online," the thin man said. "And put that away, would you?"
"Who do I have the honor of addressing?" Chris asked, retracting the blue blade. "Where am I?"
"Honor?" the man replied, amused. "I'm Doctor Picciotto and this is the Masquerade Hospital. You were brought to the android repair wing after they found you outside. Let's unplug these, sound good?" Picciotto pulled the wires connected to the android, motioning for him to get down.
"Thank you," Chris said, getting off the table. "The new covering looks very lifelike. Did you make any other modifications?"
"Water damage has been eroding your chassis for decades, so I replaced it with a modern standard issue that should provide better protection and last longer. Most of your internal systems were similarly swapped for the latest. Personality, memory and non-standard combat modules were left mostly unchanged."
"Well, I suppose it was about time for an upgrade," Chris remarked. "The new components will be put to good use."
Picciotto picked up a schematic. "It was well past time. The dates on your memory files go back centuries and use a very outdated format. Whoever wrote your code had no idea what they were doing, probably. Nothing like I've ever seen before. You might be the oldest android I've ever looked at."
"You viewed my memories?" The android asked, concerned.
"No, there was no need," the doctor explained.
"I see. Can I have my clothes back?"
"Of course," Picciotto pulled a transparent box from under his desk. It contained a stack of folded outfits, ranging from casual attire to uniforms. He combed through until he found the stolen clothes and handed them to Chris.
"Before you go, can you tell me who your owner is?" he added after Chris changed. "I assume it was the girl you were with."
"Savannah Whitesmith, yes."
Picciotto gave Chris a sympathetic look. "Her body hasn't been officially identified, but she didn't make it. I'm sorry."
Savannah mentioned Melissa was in the city searching for me. Maybe she looked here.
"Is Melissa Devlin in the hospital? She's one of Savannah's friends. I would like to break the news to her."
"Can't help you there," Picciotto said, "You could try the front desk. You can leave through that door."
"Thank you," Chris made his way to the door that Picciotto pointed out. "Have a nice day."
After a long hallway, the waiting room appeared as he walked through a double swinging door. He noticed the room was flooded with people and briefly wondered if asking the receptionist was a good idea. If anyone noticed him, he could easily be reported to Alchemilia Corporation. Taking his chance, he walked over to her. She seemed to be in her thirties and had a tanned skin tone, with long dark hair.
"How can I help you?" the receptionist, Anna as her name tag read, asked.
"I'm looking for Melissa Devlin."
Anna typed into the computer in front of her and frowned. "We don't have any patients by that name. However, our logs show that a Melissa Devlin did come through not that long ago as a visitor. Are you family?"
"Right. Can I get your name?"
Wait, I shouldn't give my real name.
"Lewis Johnson," he lied, "I work for her family."
"Alright," she clicked her computer mouse. "She's visiting Marshall Rooke in Room 237."
Chris thanked the receptionist and headed to the aforementioned room.
Standing in front of the door, Chris paused.
Is it wise to talk to them again? Due to the search, anyone that is around me could be put in danger.
Going against his instincts, he knocked on the door and opened it. He discovered Melissa standing near a pair of beds, which contained Atticus and Token. Beside her were two men he did not recognize — one was a well-dressed middle-aged man and the other was a teenager with short blonde hair. Chris approached the group cautiously.
"Hello? Excuse me?"
As soon as Chris spoke, everyone in the room turned their attention to him. Surprise lit across their faces, almost in unison.
"Looks like we have company," the blonde boy announced.
"Chris, you're okay!" Melissa ran at him and hugged tightly. "We were so worried." Shocked at her reaction, Chris quickly hugged her back.
"Yeah, it's good to see you again," Atticus said.
"What the fuck are you doing here?" Token asked, leaning forward to get a better view.
"Well," Chris began. "It's a long story. Due to my age and the current weather, I took some damage. After passing out, I was brought here, and I was upgraded."
Chris proudly held his arm upwards, showing off his new skin.
"That's… cool," Token answered, focusing on the television.
"But what happened with Alchemilia Corporation?" Melissa asked. "The last time we saw you, you were with Gabriel Arsene and now there's a manhunt for you."
Chris immediately closed the door behind him. "Melissa, be careful, I might be reported if anyone knows I am here."
"I believe Alchemilia paused their search for you. It may have something to do with the attack." the white haired man replied. Stepping forward, he held his hand outwards. "I'm Richard Devlin, Melissa and Steven's uncle."
"Pleasure to meet you, Mister Devlin." Chris warily shook his hand. The blonde boy approached Chris, extending his hand out as well.
"And I'm Steven Devlin, Melissa's brother."
"Interesting," Chris said, shaking hands again. "But let's go back to what you just said, Mister Devlin, Alchemilia really paused their search for me?"
"Yes, he just said that," Token answered.
"We don't know how long you have before they start again, but you can relax for now," Atticus said.
"But," Richard started. "You shouldn't dawdle. I'm sure Alchemilia has their reasons for searching for you and you should turn yourself in when you get the chance. It'd be the best situation for everyone."
"But you don't understand," Chris said, shocked. "I didn't do anything wrong. Doctor Arsene knew my father - Or creator, speaking literally - and he appeared to be quite fascinated with my programming. He offered me a position in Alchemilia Corporation, the same rank as his, I believe. It didn't feel right to me. My life is my own." He paused. "So, I left. My father's descendant sacrificed his own status in the company to help me escape."
"We got into some trouble there too," Token added. "Walked into something they didn't want us to."
"That's interesting," Richard mused. "But you don't have to worry, I'm not going to report you. I already talked to my niece about it and while it goes against my better judgement, I've made an agreement with her."
"I see, thank you for that," Chris nodded. "Are any of you injured? Why are you in this hospital?"
"We were attacked by the angels, but we're doing better now. We should be getting out soon," Atticus answered.
"Chris," Token glared. "Name's not Token. It's Marshall Rooke."
Before Chris could reply, Melissa interrupted. "Chris, have you seen Savannah?"
"Er," Chris responded, looking downwards. Guilt washed over him again, and he thought about the fight. Savannah had been murdered because she was around him, and in return, Chris himself had killed someone. However, seeing his companions again, he felt happy. While he was worried for them, he didn't want to burden them with the knowledge of her murder.
"No, I haven't," Chris stammered. "When did you last see her?"
"We separated when we left my uncle's laboratory, we were searching for you after seeing Alchemilia's announcement."
"Laboratory?" Chris asked, wanting to change the subject as smoothly as possible. "What kind of work is the primary focus of your laboratory, Doctor Devlin?"
"Mostly, it's research into the demons and angels. Not just their militaries - Their technology, customs, everything," Richard began.
"It's actually very interesting," Steven added, "They're a lot like us in some ways. They even worship the same gods."
"Gods?" Atticus asked.
Melissa looked at Steven, confused. "What coalition?"
"Oh," Richard said. "Right. The Nuyö-Dyavol Coalition is the government behind the demon army."
"Nuyö is a continent," Steven added.
"Pretty sure any smart person knows what it is," Marshall said. "That's where the Global Union is headquartered."
"They're our government," Richard commented, "Silivia is under Global Union jurisdiction. For a while, we were considered the safest place on Euclid to live."
"Guess that's changed," Marshall replied sarcastically.
"Yeah," Steven responded, somberly, "I guess so."
There was a moment of silence, before Steven continued the conversation.
"Our attackers were the Sabaoth, the angel army. We don't know as much about them - they're winning the war, and we can't get any intel from them."
Atticus nodded along to the explanation as a nurse knocked on his door and entered. "Mr. Anoethite, you've been cleared to leave."
The nurse left as quickly as she had entered.
"What now?" Marshall asked.
"Well," Richard began. "Beds. Warm meals. At least, for a little while. We'll figure the rest out when we get there."