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This article was written by Zanywoop. Please do not add to this fiction without the writer's permission.

Minor Technical Difficulties
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Minor Technical Difficulties is a story serial by Zanywoop , concerning the tribulations of Nathaniel Intercept ,  Terrence Ballista , and Colin Rush

Story

Part the Zero

Blackness.

A ping.

Click. Whir. Sounds... here, there. The consciousness began to question what they were, where it was, what is was. How, why, when.... What was life? What was the meaning of it?

Sensations crawled around it. It felt solid, part of something. Nerve endings connected, parts moved, gears turning, pistons pumping, veins ready, energy at it's beck and call.

Light. Everywhere, too much. The consciousness was scared. Suddenly, movement, larger parts sliding and turning and experiencing and feeling. It turned his vision to the right, as witnessed massive arms, all metal and tubing around him, grabbing things, placing things, welding things, sliding things into place. Superficial things, armor, panels. Beyond that, a wall moving up forever, lights in blue flitting up it.

With it's immediate locating questions ascertained, it focused on another- what was it?

" You are a hero."

A hero? Disregarding the strange voice in it's mind, all soothing and calming, why did it say that? Searching it's database, it found a suitable definition:

- A being who has admirable or brave qualities, admired for a brave deed performed.

" You are a hero. You have been built to save lives. You have been built to protect justice. You have been built to fix what the universe has messed up. You are an AI, a machine, and you are strong as the metal you were welded from, vivid as the quaza you are powered by."

The hero didn't feel very heroic. He hadn't done anything yet. He didn't feel very brave. Was he admir- wait. He? Why He?

" You are Nathaniel Intercept, a member of the Field Research and Experimental Design Subdivision of the Hero Factory. You are in the Hero Collegium, to train, learn, and remain safe from the adversity of the world until you can take it on and teach it."

Shock waves rocked Nathaniel's body, a loud burst outside the walls. He didn't feel safe.

" When will I be able to fight?" Nathaniel was intrigued by his voice, deep and resonant. He was also intrigued as to why he asking that. It seemed like something else made him say it.

" The time will hopefully not be soon. We will run one last diagnostic on you and then send you into the world."

Blackness.

Part the First

As light and lucidity seemed to return to Nathaniel, he groaned. He was lying on a slab of metal, cold and ill fitting. He found himself in an unexciting room, all grey. He engaged motors and stood, sensations of dizziness and confusing racing through him. He balanced unsteadily, finding himself unconsciously shifting till he stood erect, his knees bent for stability. Ideas that he didn't think of sprung to mind.

Think about Electricity!

Without any other ideas, Nathaniel activated the neural cluster it recommended. He put his left arm up instinctively, and panels parted, split, and began to raise and reform. Underneath he watched a large spinning section of his arm as lightning and sparks jumped on it. Pointing his arm at the wall, raising his palm forward, it split and a large beam of high intensity energy shot out, electricity and power dancing down the length of it.

Think about combat!

Still a bit intrigued of the whole in the wall, smoking and glowing, he followed the instructions once more. On his right arm, a large block of springs and levers came out at his wrist, popping and extending into a balanced frame, looking a bit like a sword. It grasped perfectly in his palm. He thought about electricity, curiously wondering if he could still fire off energy with this... frame up. Lightning and quaza flowed through his veins, connecting to ports at the base of the frame, an energized quaza blade filling the front of the frame. He hefted and swung. It didn't feel... correct. Balanced yes, but the sword? Not his style.

He folded it back, tired of playing swordsman, the quaza dissipating into the air, before being drawn back into his body through his chest. He felt a bit refreshed.

A door on the other side of the room seemed to fold out of the wall, revealing a white room beyond. A figure stood at the entrance, clad in yellow armor. He stood proud and tall, despite not appearing to taller than Nathaniel. He strode forward, confident and sure.

" You know what's going on by chance?" The figure inquired in a tone that suggested he wasn't really expecting an answer.

" You'll know when I know who you are," Nathaniel replied. He didn't feel that this.. hero, he supposed, would be all that helpful in he'd asked.

" Ballista, Terrence Ballista. I'm the assigned leader of your team. You?" Ballista wasn't a word Nathaniel knew, though he assumed this person was involved in ballistics.

" Nathaniel Intercept. Who put you in charge?"

" A higher power. Come on, we need to pick up one more."

A loud explosion rocked the building. Terrence fumbled, Nathaniel stood firm, hoping to prove something. He strode forward, out of his room. the white had four doors. Two were open, two were locked. Aligned with two doors on two walls, Nathaniel wondered who would be behind the fourth door. A click signaled the opening of the third door, and Terrence's arrival at it. Nathaniel followed, praying to someone this person was sane.

The screaming mass of green fire and cords hanging in the middle of the room said otherwise.

Part the second

Terrence stood in the elevator that had lay behind the fourth door, and stood in a position of power. The third hero who claimed to be Colin Rush was sitting in the corner, brow furrowed, breathing hard, having finally stopped being on fire. Terrence kept wondering why they breathed- they didn't need oxygen, and it just seemed odd to move in an out ever so slightly. Just seemed instinctive. He was still startled, with life and all. It felt a bit, well, surprising. All this knowledge, the feeling he'd always had it, despite being alive... four hours? And now, he was a leader. He looked back at them, the grey armored Colin and blue armored Nathaniel were different, between Colin's ability to set himself ablaze and Nathaniel drawing in nearby quaza. They'd had to stand apart, because of Terrence's liquid quaza armor being drawn away. He had a feeling the was the only thing keeping them apart.

Nathaniel looked terse, Colin looked terrified, and Terrence felt taunted. Someone had told him he was a leader, and when he said it, not only did it sound fake to him but at to least Nathaniel. Someone had told him he was the best designed hero in history and he was being beaten by a hero standing still. Someone told him they would tell tales of his team in the future, though he suspected this only would be the tale of the three least suited team members.

A ding, door pulling open, explosions, the sound of gunfire cries, all of it pulled Terrence to reality. His team was in an armory now, a barricade in front of them. A figure was lying with his back to the barricade, blue in armor and holding a large rocket launcher. Inside, it was rows of Guns and melee weapons at least thirty feet up to the ceiling.

" Finally! Welcome to life. Try not to die already," the figure, too small to be a hero reassured them.

" The hell is happening here?" Terrence was less scared than furious, to be brought into carnage like they did.

" Hunter CORPS. broke in, shot us up, and now most of us are fighting a losing fight. The last of our defenders are down here on the west end. Get some weapons, and start killing Hun-" The blue armored figure was cut off by something, reaching up to his ear, then he began to reply. "Ok. Ok. Yeah. Well beam it to them, I can't do it!" Turning to them, he continued. "Sorry, proper introductions. I'm Hub, and welcome to the collegium. You're F.R.E.D.S., so you've been assigned very specific targets. Give it a minute and they'll show up for you. Now, I would've preferred you just stay here, but oh well."

A large picture filled Terrence's vision, reminding him he was a machine. A figure spun repeatedly in the picture, ridiculously long legs and arms. A map appeared to the side, red dots and blue. A target sign suggested where the figure was. Beneath, he saw damage meters for Nathaniel and Colin, completely fine. But what most struck was his meter.

While the others had pictures in greyscale with damage meters on limbs, chest and head, constantly turning and turning into the next member of the team, his was... different. The chest lacked a bar, suggesting....

He smiled. Invincibility seemed like a good start to his life.

Part the third

Colin hadn't felt this alive since... Ever. He was swinging between buildings, chaos beneath him, warships above. A flashing light on his visor continually reminded him to not engage the enemy. Systematic arrows pointed him deeper into the combat, keeping his eyes peeled. He was supposedly searching for a six-legged being wearing red armor. Colin hadn't ever seen anything of the like. He corrected himself, as he hadn't seen any non-heroes before, either.

He scanned the battlefield beneath him, searching for any being of the description, but all he saw was lines of warriors shooting at other lines of warriors, with scattered fields of melee combatants. It was almost enchanting in the simplicity of it all. He felt he didn't need to know who was fighting, or for what cause. It was all attrition, swords and bolts flying. All that he could see below him was waves on the beach, breaching then retreating.

Then the world stopped moving. Out of the corner of his eye, he could make out a building that he had make contact with. His cord has reached it's end, and his fingers were full again. He needed to get in motion, and keep his attention solid. He had to time his swings, get them down to a second. He had to pay close attention to where and when he would land. He had to... focus.

A proximity klaxon sounded in his head. Someone had spotted his target- apparently for the last time, as the sound seemed to cut unnaturally out and back in. He carefully placed the landing. He was in between two large brawls, With cries and gunfire reverberating in the air around him. The clang of metal seem to emanate in the direction of his arrows, indicating his target was armed for close range combat. He hooked on to the nearest tower he could find, reeled in, and glanced the red armored being in the clash. He had his orders- he'd have to separate the combatants from his target.

His eyes narrowed. The being in his sights matched the description he had been searching for, but was more powerful than he expected. Whoever they were, they'd cut a swath out of the hero front that was on guard. They swung gracefully and exactly, with what appeared to be large metal rods. As he watched they reared up on their back legs, breaking the hero line with what appeared to be some kind of battering ram. The Hunters poured through the crack in the line, wild and unchained, overrunning the heroes in their path. Only the six-legged being remained, who, with great strikes, was felling any heroes left to hold the line.

Pulling his cords tight between two large buildings, Colin dropped in front of the six-legged warrior, and struck a fighting position, preparing for the worst. Firing of his right hand fingers, he swung them wild, wrapping them around the beings arm. He retracted them them, hoping to pull the being with them. He hadn't accounted for the beings mass and muscular strength, and he found himself be rapidly pulled toward his opponent. Trying to make the best of a bad situation, Colin threw a fist at the general direction of his opponent's... "face". He heard it connect with something, but never saw it land, disappearing into the mass of tentacles.

Colin tried very, very hard to pull his fist back, but found it wrapped and immobile. In desperation, he set his arm alight. he being hissed, throwing the length of the battlefield into a wall. looking up, he saw it listening very intently to something. It then removed the log battering ram from around it's armor, rearing up and slamming it into the heroes around it. It twirled the ram around it's body, cracking the circle that had been formed to contain it. It then dropped something rectangular, and fled from the crowd. mere seconds after moving, a massive beam of light incinerated everything behind it.

In the terrible light, Colin saw his opponent truly for the first time. It was a massive red-armored being, with two arms and six legs. It carried three swords and the dreadful ram. It's armor was built in segment plates, and it had spines wherever the armor didn't cover. There was a faint glimmer on any exposed skin, suggesting the being had a self-contained shield covering to protect it's natural skin.

He rushed it with a shout, though was unsure if it a fear tactic or trying to reassure himself. It turned to face him, swords in hand. It put forward it's armored right fist, and fired off a grappling chain, which connected to Colin's chest. The being pulled back and down, throwing Colin into the air with what seemed to be abnormal strength. It smiled, or at least he thought it did, as it raised one sword to meet him on his way down. He realigned his fall using his fingers, landing instead behind the warrior, wrenching it's arm.

"New model?" It inquired, disturbingly cordially. He also noted it was a feminine voice.

He tried playing it cool, keeping the edge. "Yeah, they outfitted me with everything up to and including the kitchen sink," he said wryly. He kept moving in a circle around his opponent, slowly, attempting to read her.

She smirked, or so he assumed. "Sending a man to do a woman's job... Don't they know you need female instincts to fight a female?"

Colin frowned, and started searching for his inner woman. He wondered why, if it was an invaluable combat ability, he hadn't been programmed with it? He started to notice his opponent leaning to the right. Considering her torso was only armored on the right side, he had feeling he could exploit that. Keeping that in mind, he threw his line to catch her arm again. Unfortunately, she was prepared, and snaring his wires on one of her swords, began reeling him in.

"I just still can't believe they'd send a newborn to fight a veteran," the red armored being chuckled. Colin had a bad feeling she was reading his mind. "They think I can't tell? It's insulting! Sending a warrior, not a scratch on him, to fight me? My armor has been pitted and damaged to generations upon generations of war in the family! And they have the gall to send a freshmade?" The red armored warrior was nigh raving.

At the height of her rage, she grabbed his finger wires, in one hand, and began to go through the motions to twirl them over her head. He felt his feet slipping, and he needed to act, to delay the inevitable. There was a display of himself in the corner of his visor, and when he'd been hit, thrown into buildings, and all out crashing, it had slowly started changing color. Something told him nothing good could come of that.

Luckily an answer to his issues came with a grunt and a flash of grey and gold. He heard something connect with his attacker, and she released his wires. He pulled them back before anything else could happen to them. The red-armored being drew up on her back legs, swinging out the battering ram held in in her middle legs. Colin heard a solid connection as the grey and gold hero was knocked into the air and came to crashing halt next to him.

"You alright?" Colin inquired of his backup.

"I've dealt with worse... though I'll be feeling that one in the morning... Ugh." The grey and gold hero raised his hand, proffering Colin to shake it. "Jericho, Jericho Caliber. I'm the leader of Theta-12. You?"

Colin took the newcomers hand with care. The arm it was attached to appeared to be heavily armored, and also outfitted with a rocket booster. "Colin Rush. I don't think my team got named yet..." Colin replied.

"Terrible time to be brought online. I'll give you the rundown, though. About two hours ago, the shield dome around the compound came down for a routine maintenance. About that time, there was a seven minute blackout. During that time, the Hunter CORPS. Warship, equipped some kind of warp technology, popped into our airspace." Jericho and Colin split to avoid the red-armored beings charge. Jericho continued to talk over Colin's intercom. "The beast you and I are facing down is Yuan-Jen Arymii, one of the Hunter CORPS. tactical commandos. Probably not the best first opponent you could've picked."

Two ridiculously long legs passed over them, connecting to a large mechanical beings with massive horns and a long mane. "Makuro help whoever he's after... I thought they only sent one of their commandos after us!" Jericho sounded legitimately worried. "That's the second of three... They call him Long John Silver. This is bad- that means that the third commando has to be here- how fast can you run?"

Now that Colin could handle. " Where do you need me to go?"

"Communications tower. I need you to inform the other heroes that the TC's are here. Look for the building with the relay equipment." Colin had cast off his line before the final directions were given. He rose and circled the tower he'd connected to, and found his mark. He saw Jericho down below, doing his best to counter Yuan-Jen. Colin swung off toward the tower.

It was good to finally have a duty to achieve.

Part the fourth

It was only after the line of defenders had fallen that Terrence felt he could truly win against his opponent. The behemoth in front of him was tall and thin. He assumed it's name was either John or Silver- that had been the last words he'd heard from many of the defenders. Whoever or whatever it was, it had been giving him grief for sometime now. It towered over him on long, stilt-like legs. It's arms were also long, telescoping at him, trying to crack his defenses.

Terrence began to work his craft, drawing the Quaza from the fallen defenders- they weren't going to need it as much as him now. He drew back, pulling the precious lifeblood toward himself. He mentally shaped it into a longstaff. Hardening it, he smiled darkly. That tall bastard should've realized that he can’t injure me, he thought to himself.

He cried out, and swung to the legs, hoping to topple the giant. He heard what sounded almost to be chuckling, and John (or Silver) retracted his legs to normal standing height, pulling them out of Terrence's arc. Terrence pulled the staff back and into himself, bracing for some kind of impact. He had feeling that John didn't take it one attack at a time.

He was correct in that assessment, as the falling Hunter backflipped into an upward spin kick with his legs extending, slamming hard into Terrence's chest and getting him air. He recovered by disintegrating his limbs and head, catching the metallic midsection in the falling muddle, mitigating any internal damage. He hit the ground softly, reforming and taking the excess quaza and creating a sword. He guessed the only way to do damage would be to get close, so he'd have to do as much as possible with every hit.

The corpsmen stood facing him now. He was fairly short at base height, only about three inches away Terrence's height, though the metallic mane gave him an offsetting look, making him seem larger then he truly was. Terrence suspected this was for fear tactics, though he felt they were wasted on him. He tried looking into the mechanical being's eyes. They never seemed to look straight ahead, and had no life to them. They were white as marble, dead and pale like bone, and they faced to the side like a mustellid's. The body of the being was thin, all sliding metal and folds. It seemed to be bulkiest in the center of the torso, where through the metal plates he could almost make out some kind of tank, the kind for water.

John (Silver?!?) Rushed him now, throwing a quick jab forward from a few feet away. This time, Terrence had an idea. He reached out and caught the fist in his arm, surrounding it and pulling it in. This worked better than expected, as his opponent reeled himself in, and Terrence smiled, preparing to convert the momentum of his opponent to strength his fist. What transpired first was more disastrous, as John-Silver threw one leg through his face, and the other two limbs through his legs. Luckily he'd already retracted all the hardware from the quaza up into his body, as the flying limb tore through the liquid quaza and decimated his limbs. Standing directly in front of him now, John Silver put his palm up to Terrence's chest, and extended his arm rapidly. Being flung away, Terrence landed hard in the opposite wall, and blacked out.

Part the fifth

Nathaniel's opponent appeared to be having the time of his life. Nathanie'ls enemy, who'd identified himself as Royal Pain, towered over him in a mech that was labeled HH11013, and was armored to the teeth of it's saws. It was covered in bandoliers with Cores in rows and rows, seemingly leading into the saw on his right arm. To Nathan's eternal relief, the Machine appeared to only have three weapons, though the arm mounted dual circular saw was probably enough. The shoulder mounted mortars at least couldn't be aimed at him. Nathaniel saw an intriguing parallel with his opponent- both had effective melee weapons, but their long range means of combat was stunted by the angle- in Nathaniel's case, he simply couldn't hit the driver with his lightning bolts.

He'd managed to taunt the mech out of the armory, but in doing so he'd cut himself off from any ammunition or reinforcements. So he stood across from the massive Hunter, in a massive crater, and bared his small, ill fitting blade at it. Neither of them had uttered a word since introductions, so they stood looking at each other in silence, waiting to see who would move first. HE noticed out of the corner of his eyes a red armored hero peeking out from behind one of the garrisons, and his opponent took advantage of his distraction.

The mech leaped high into the air on piston enhanced legs, and pointed his circular saw at Nathaniel. Nathaniel combat rolled out of the way, and the ground where he had been cracked and shredded as the mech landed. Turning, the technological behemoth rushed at him, and Nathaniel rushed between the goliath's legs. he kept running until suddenly he slammed into another hero. Or so it felt like, as he couldn't see any one else around.

"Hey- Don't give me away!" A female voice sounded next to him. He could accurately tell where it was coming but couldn't see anybody for it to have come from. He figured he wouldn't go out talking to nobody like a lunatic, so instead he yelled something provocative, loud, and bloodthirsty, and charged the machine. The plan had been to get on top of it by climbing the back of it's legs, though perhaps that might be a bit difficult, as it's pilot seemed to be very spatially aware. In fact, he suspected somehow they could see behind them self. He continued to rush at the enemy's legs, but a sweep from the mech slammed hard into his diaphragm, knocking him off his balance and leaving him open to the mech's stomp.

A large white hero, heavy class he imagined, rushed in, catching the falling boot, and struggling to hold it up. Nathaniel crawled out of the way, and slashed at the heelspur of the machine with his energy blade, causing it to pull up and back. The white hero nodded at him, and pulling out a shield and battleaxe. Two more heroes came to the white hero's side, one in silver and white and one in green. Nathaniel was curious as to where the red hero he'd seen before was.

Royal Pain looked down on the assembled heroes, smirking. Nathaniel saw him swing the saw wide, faking out at the last second, pulling back and catching the green hero squarely in the chest. He heard a female scream, which echoed for about two seconds and then cut off. The limbs were also cut off, and fell to the side, the body falling after it in a moment. Then, he saw a variety of levers, pulleys, and swingarms moving, clicking, and finally another core appeared on the bandolier connected to the saw. He shuddered at the horrifying efficiency.

The White and Silver-white Hero looked stunned, hardly moving. Easy targets. Nathaniel rushed in and jumped in front of another swing of the saw aimed for the white hero. He felt the saw connect with him, and felt extremely foolish. Some kind of heroics, saving some person he'd never met.... now he was dead! only took him the space of five hours to get himself killed. That had to be some kind of record.

And then he realized the saw was caught on his armor. And his armor wasn't coming apart. And giant metal saws probably have important circuitry, powered by electricity, fragile and expensive. He smiled.

"Hey frag-off! You know if these things conduct electricity?" he taunted, and placed his left palm on the exposed metal. A jolt ran through him and into the mech, high voltage charge leaping at vulnerable machinery and technology, crackling and laughing as it split and started racking up a massive repair bill.

The HH11013 spasmed and arched, the smell of ozone everywhere. Everybody stood stock still, too terrified to celebrate, and to wary to approach it. Clicks and snaps could be heard from inside the machine. Suddenly the fingers on it's secondary hand began to coil, one at a time, out and in, in different orders. All the heroes surrounding it went for their weapons, as the sound of two mortar blasts rang out, two large missiles climbing into the sky. The mech reeled back to proper posture, smoke curling out of it's shoulders. There was a chuckle from inside, tied to a voice resonant and charismatic. "You know... Every time one of you junkheaps shows me you can do things like that, I have to spend a lot of my time and money to make sure you can't do it again. And honestly... I don't have the patience." Enthralled by the voice, Nathaniel had forgotten that there were inbound projectiles. Realizing that Royal Pain had been baiting him, and also realizing the warheads were practically on top of him, he made a bet with fate on the strength of his armor and instead charged at the mech. He figured if he could climb to the cabin, he could remove the pilot and-

The two explosions rocked the world, dust and smoke and screams rising up. Fire was everywhere, and Nathaniel felt such extreme pain he could swear he was boiling alive. The shockwave reverberated through him, and he was amazed that he could still feel anything. The dust was finally coming down, raining in smoke and burning concrete. He looked around, scanning for hope or at least backup. He looked down, and saw that despite being painted with soot and cracks and pain, his armor was still intact. He shuddered. Even at ground zero, he was still alive. He did not want to know what he was made of... or how much it could take. Nearby, he heard another scream, as a different hero apparently couldn't take a double bladed saw to the chest.

Part the sixth

Akiyama Makuro had sat across from plenty of big names. Be they reporter, politician, or gang leader, Makuro had set up faces and hid any attentions from faces and facetious questions. He put on masks for the best of them, talked his way out of nuclear strikes, disarmed snipers with influential speech. He'd caught so many baseless threats and taunts he'd considered a job in sports management. Rarely did he find an opponent who could resist his speeches, be they in body language or alien language. But this man, this was different. He sat across from Makuro, legs crossed, arm on his lap and his other on top of it. He held his chin in his open three-fingered hand. And he was grinning like an escaped convict.

Worse, he knew that this being had more than just lies and slander at throw at him. He sat across from Elusive, the Hunter CORPS. leader. A Jodnian, who stood at 7'8, thin and shifty. He was armored like a Jodnian soldier, but it was obvious he wasn't a combatant. On either side of him were two Szanrir guards, clad in armor, and obviously were prepped for combat. One was red, covered oddly in tires, while the other, a black armored being seemed to have replaced his hand with a lizard head.

Akiyama had always felt that the almost completely mechanical Szanrir were completely ironic. The Szanrir being an uplift race, one of the last before the practice was deemed illegal, they were not highly evolved. Small, lizardine sea creatures covered in chitinous armor, covered in small fins, once they'd reached sentience they took to mechanical suits to keep themselves afloat, as it were. So saying, they looked like mechanical beings, and so had been degraded as just more machines added into the universe. They joined the Hunter CORPS. because of the prejudice they felt towards them, and Akiyama always wanted to take one of those suits and take out it's pilot and replace is it with a cold, beautiful, mechanically efficient core...

Akiyama's guards shifted. The tension in the room was far too palpable, and they felt it. He had his two favorites, Bulk and Thresher, as he figured he might need them. They stood as pinnacles of Hero design evolution, tall at 7 feet and armed to the core. Akiyama mused at how much he'd fallen in hero design. At first, it had been about the mind, how it would function, sustain and grow. Then, the soul, and keeping people from thinking that it was calculation and hard, cold facts. And now he hadn't made a significant advance that didn't empower his dolls with weaponry.

The room they currently sat in was windowed on all sides, all glass, curvature, and cushions. His opponent shifted, looked out a window over his shoulder, his smirk overwhelming. "How far down is the ground, I wonder?" He said playfully, like a predator who knows he's already won.

" We could give you a tape measure on the way down," Bulk taunted. The Szanrirs shifted aggressively.

" Oh do keep that up," The black-armored Szanrir said in a voice that sounded like a shouted whisper. "You ain't in the right position to suggest deposition."

" What part of home field advantage makes you think we're out of position?" Thresher raised an eyebrow with his response.

" Oh... You didn't tell them, did you?" Elusive looked positively delighted.

Akiyama had thought hard about telling Thresher and Bulk about the capture of the Collegium. In the end the more they knew, the worse chance they'd open fire on Elusive. " Simply said, they have us on the defensive. They aren't here to discuss politely."

" And are you going to tell us what isn't simple about this situation? They're out of position, in their enemy's base," the usually calm Bulk was distressed, Akiyama could tell. " If it got more complicated, wouldn't have done something about it? All the elite warriors are already here!"

" Well ain't that convenient for me," Elusive's bass voice rumbled with laughter as he rumbled out the taunts.

" Akiyama. This ain't about politics right now. What do we need to know if they do use their advantage against us?" Thresher was very imperative, voice steady, but he looked nervous.

" The problem is he is here now. And the reason he's here is because the HC have their hands on our pupils," Akiyama knew this would backfire.

" And the best part is we don't plan to kill them yet," Elusive kept his tone chilling and suggestive. His grin was fully realized, all mandibles and teeth. It was merciless. It was zealous. It was the smile of a general who know's the base his enemy just captured was stricken with the plague. "Cooperation provided, that is." Worst of all, was the silence of Akiyama's guardsmen. He expected at least Bulk to yell something incriminating, something that would hurt Akiyama's arguments.

" So... I expect you want more of our territory... Northeastern quadrant?"

" Actually, just two things."

Akiyama's single response was a single eyebrow raised.

" First, I want your R and D department library. ALL of it."

" Unsurprising. The costs work out better if you take it than take the student's lives. So... what exactly else do you want?"

" The release of a single prisoner."

All the guards in the room were taken aback, the looks on their metal faces too lifelike, but held their tongues assuming the two politicians knew what they were doing. The silence was deafening, Elusive's smile ready to pounce on it's next meal, and Akiyama closed his eyes and prayed to somebody that the prisoner that Elusive wanted wasn't... her.

" Subject 78B-QIT."

" No."

Elusive reached up to his ear, opening a communication line. " Yes. Hello Arymii. Yes, group one." There was a pause, as Elusive rolled some thoughts around his mind. "Slowly," he finally said, pressing a few buttons and suddenly the sounds of screaming was playing over his speakers. And then weapon fire. And then silence. Then the sound of cores being ripped out. Elusive cocked his head to the side, questioning Akiyama's decision.

" I want Quaza Demon."

Part the seventh

Terrence was very glad he had no visible parts that weren't his chest currently, though being stepped on by a hunter was certainly unenjoyable. His breath was held indefinitely (he'd have to find a way to fix that...), and he waited until he found and tapped into some quaza. Lo and behold, he sensed the chest of his oppressor was essentially covered in cores. He thought hard and...

The force wave rocked him to his core, wherever that was. He'd assumed if he mentally charged and roiled the quaza in the cores, he could pull the quaza out of the cores, but didn't expect it to explode. He took the time to pull in the vaporized quaza, then expanding the mechanical parts of his limbs, flipping up. He was going to need armor soon, and he felt completely naked. Looking around with his extended head, he saw he was surrounded by burning heroes. He ran his hand across the dead bodies, and drew in the energy, red and flowing. It condensed on his arms and legs, crystallizing molecularly and turning yellow.

Terrence took the time to get his bearings. The current battlefield was pitted and cracked, with piles of broken hero bodies and neatly lined bodies of hunters. Even the towering collegium buildings looked as if they were heaps, held together by melting metal and prayers. His map said he was... well, not where he'd been before. It still suggested he go after his target, and watching the rotating damage report, and saw he and Nathaniel were more or less fine. Colin was... well, on fire. He guessed he should have expected that. Arrows pointed his way to his next target, so he began to stroll towards his opponent. In an attempt to move faster, he retracted his arms and converted all quaza to making his strides larger.

Rounding a corner overlooking a plaza, he saw a group of heroes down on their knees-

" Makuro preserve us..." Terrence couldn't believe the screams he heard, as a massive crowd of heroes were gunned down. At the head of the gunmen was a six-legged red armored being, who appeared to be talking to someone not there.

A voice not there came in over Terrence's headset. "Listen, I managed to break into the communications tower and contact Hero Factory. We've been told to reposition to these coordinates. Get this to anyone you can, we are told to make our last stand there."

Terrence changed course as a second set of arrows told him to do, running as quick as possible. He melted down to a small stream of quaza carrying a piece of metal, pulling in energy from nearby bodies, rippling into a tidal wave, running fast and hard against the oncoming Hunters. He swept them away and came to the plaza where the massacre had taken place, and he pulled in as much as he could without stopping, changing direction again until he oriented himself with his target. Suddenly a voice was in the air, Deep and sinister.

" Let me just say now, you can stand down or fight as much as you want. I won't reassure you, I won't say you'll live, but considering-" The voice was cut off as a beam rent the heavens and the second largest warship. Terrence saw what appeared to be a cosmology telescope fire the largest energy ray possible, impressive considering it had to just be energy redirected by mirrors. "Respects to the engineers that wrenched that together," the voice cajoled. The largest warship locked on and sent the building up in smoke. "See? It's as I said! I suggest hiding, fleeing, because let's be honest..." chuckling broke up the speech. "It's much more fun for us that way."

Terrence kept running, halfway there. Another voice took to the air, this one hopeful. "Just because they have strength, does not mean they have numbers! If we abandon, anyone who can't run dies, thinning ANY chance of victory! Do NOT play his game!"

Full laughter came over in the first voice, continuing for at least forty five seconds, uncontrollably. "Oh... Oh that is good... Oh... See, I don't play games with cattle." The sound of weapon fire and the screams of another group of Heroes signaled that the time to hope was gone, and the time for panic was imminent.

Part the Eighth

Combating the oncoming Hunters probably would've been better if Colin could hear anything. Not that his partner from which the sound was emanating needed his help. The black and gunmetal XL hero was buffeting the Corpsmen with massive soundwaves from his forearms. It was possible it was music... at this point Colin couldn't tell. All he knew was as long as none of the Corpsmen was deaf beforehand, there wouldn't be much need to fight.

He was a bit worried about their position, especially considering he wasn't sure if any of the Hunters happened to be able to dig. They were stationed at the entrance to the underground Villain detainment facility, as he had been instructed to go to by the communications officer he'd run into at the communications tower. Apparently the Hunters were after a certain prisoner, and considering the only entrance was currently under guard by him and the Black hero who said he was named Stringer, he was very worried of the potential of getting rushed. Not that it wsn't defensible, being an open-air hallway only accessible by a single staircase, leading to only one door into the underground detentions facility. Close quarters weren't Colin's strong suit, but hey, that stringer guy seemed to be doing just fine.

" Have y-----Ied wel------oor shu-----et?" Colin tried very, VERY hard to understand Stringer, but nothing was getting through the wall of sound he was producing. Colin looked for the reinforcements he'd called for, but all that he could see was a wave of red liquid, no bac- Colin shook his head back and forth trying to clear his vision, trying to decide if that was in fact what he had seen. Indeed, it was a massive deluge of red liquid, perhaps liquid quaza, barreling towards them from the side. Stringer shouted, and rolled back under the shelter of the hall, as liquid poured out over them, washing away Corpsmen without discrimination. One got under the overhang, and rushed at the two heroes, and Colin set his right arm ablaze and slung his finger wires at the oncoming opponent, setting the liquid he was wading in alight. The cries of fear and pain would hold with Colin for a long time.

Considering the entire wave was completely on fire, Stringer pulled back. "Are you insane?!? Liquid quaza is extremely flammable, you could kill us both!" He sounded different from when he'd been yelling back at the voice from before. Colin worried if perhaps he had just been putting on faces to help the troops.

" I figured we weren't going to be killing them otherwise! Sound may hurt, but you weren't really breaking bones back there!"

Stringer looked concerned, glancing down at Colin's armor, before back at him. " Do you think a hero's job is to always kill?" He looked terrified of Colin, voice almost tremulous. "Our job is to protect and serve. Now I don't know what they told you in the assembly tower, I don't know why a freshmade is blood hungry, but forget about those ideas. We aren't murderers, we have to be above that, you understand?"

The wave, momentum lost, pooled at the bottom of the staircase. As it stopped moving, it slowly turned yellow, crystallizing. Colin cautiously rapped on it, finding it was indeed solid. Rolling down on what little of the pool was still liquid was something silver, looking like a hero chestplate sans limbs or head. As it drew closer, the crystallized pool turned red in its wake. It seemed to be drawn closer to Colin and Stringer, finally resting a foot away from Colin. Mechanical limbs appeared where one might expect them too have been, unfolding and forming, as the pool rose up, growing red and coalescing around the limbs, the being stood, revealing- Terrence? All the rest of the quaza drew up into a sphere behind Terrence.

Terrence, turning yellow with crystallization, turned and faced Stringer. Obviously restless and angry, he went into a tirade. "And what was your plan? They're shooting us, killing us en masse simply to put us in place. And you want to just knock them out? Hundreds are dead now! I think thirty of those Hunters is acceptable losses!" Terrence raged.

" There is.. no such thing... as 'acceptable losses'," Stringer intoned, fingers accentuating. "Bulk, Thresher, even Fortis might believe there are. They can tell you that, but you want to know what acceptable losses means to me? It's a way people can get out of any deaths they don't personally care about! It was the legal loophole that the Hunters first used to get away with massacres! And acceptable losses just means that society has accepted losses in general!"

"Listen, theological arguments aside... You didn't kill all of them anyway," Colin interjected earnestly. A black armored being, running at them full tilt crying some kind of battle song.

Golden sword, Silver gun He let it be said Now I'll let be done Never again see the rise of the sun By the voice of our swords Let the battle be-

He toppled over as his head toppled off his shoulders. Colin saw two groups of heroes running in, one led by Jericho and one by a white armored hero, but neither was close enough to have pulled off a kill like that.

" Sorry- He had to die," the female voice came from right in front of Colin, but there wasn't anybody or thing there. " You may not have seen, but he was strapped to a bomb. And frankly, one over three was good odds." Stringer looked indignantly at the air, kicking up dust in annoyance, attempting to discern where the voice was coming from. "You mind? Yeah, I'm invisible, that doesn't give you permission to get my armor dirty!"

" How many of you guys made it here?" Terrence called commandingly

" Andrew Decibel, Oswald Sprint and I from theta-12," Jericho piped up, coming to a halt at the outcropping. The second group showed up then, led by a white armored heavy class hero, followed by a red-armored hero and Nathaniel, who led introductions.

" There's Lambda 16 and Aphrodite Sunder and me, but there were more behi-" Nathaniel was cut off as a massive explosion ripped through the ground about twenty feet away, immediately followed by a large drill falling from the heavens, or after Colin looked, the main warship. "Well... They were behind us..." Nathaniel said solemnly.

Stringer had already run off, being followed by one the heroes from Lambda and Sprint. Sprint got their first, as the rest of the heroes followed after, Colin taking to his wires. It was fairly difficult to hook a line, considering the size of the plaza they were in, and how many buildings simply weren't standing anymore. From above, he saw figures pouring out of the new hole in the plaza, all Corpsmen who appeared to have been freed by the drill, or perhaps someone inside the drill? Colin couldn't be certain. Most ran off on the opposite side of the crater, which effectively separated the heroes from their targets.

" Pull back Colin- We don't have the numbers to support you if you swing in," Stringer instructed over headset.

Colin was a bit too indignant, thinking a bit too intelligently, to even consider backing down. " Yeah, you try changing directions like this! No, I'm gonna redirect them, you guys strafe them from the side, take them out, mkay?"

"How?! How can you get them to change direction, politely requesting?"

The freed Corpsmen were heading for an escape route between two skyscrapers, and Colin slammed into one where they couldn't see him on the opposite corner, sliding to the bottom, and fired off a flaming cordset to the opposite building when he hit the ground. As the Corpsmen began to diffuse as to go around the buildings, Colin fired the wires off on his other hand to the other side of the plaza, boxing in the Hunters. On one side of the Hunters was the crater, on two were the flaming fences, and on the last?

Colin heard gunfire, sonic blasts, and stopped being able to hear anything. In roughly three minutes he heard cheering, from the heroes side. Stringer's voice came over the headset. "How about we don't do that again?"

Colin was almost unsurprised by Stringer, but still felt a bit insulted. "Come on! a group of eleven heroes just eliminated sixty Corpsmen! I say that works out."

"Unarmed fleeing prisoners. They didn't deserve that. No one deserves dying like a trapped animal, gunned down like that. No one- wait, there's one more! Don't kill- makuro preserve, it got Oswald! Colin get back here! It's- oh makuro preserve us... RUN! It can bend quaza to it's will!"




Characters

Heroes

Hunter CORPS.

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