|The following content contains discussion of homophobia, religion, and child abuse. Please proceed at your own discretion.|
|WARNING: PROFANITY FOLLOWS|
|The following content contains profanity that may not be suitable for readers of all ages. Please proceed with caution.|
|Season 1, Episode 2|
New X World
Lucky X 13
Survival X Fittest is the second episode of Tech Cross.
The first day of summer vacation.
Things were naturally very busy, with the airport being flooded with families setting out on grand vacations, campsites quickly filling up with the strange breed of people that enjoy camping for whatever reason, and the city proper being filled with students seeking a good way to kick off their free time.
Liberty Park, a large recreational area downtown, was particularly full, with parents not used to actually being around their children during the day throwing their kids onto the playground in hopes of wearing them out. In a grassy area nearby, Dupligato jumped from place to place, using her shadow clones to gather up litter and throw it into the nearest garbage bins.
"Seriously, Teresa, what is the point of this?" The CrossTrix dial blinked impatiently. "Do you have a community service sentence I didn't know about?"
"Not exactly." Dupligato grabbed a can off the ground and kicked it into a trash bin across the road. "I figured I could get some practice in with my aliens and do a little bit of cleanup at the same time. This city has a really bad pollution problem."
"Normally I would commend that sort of efficient thinking, but in case you've forgotten, we're supposed to be visiting Dr. Krauze today." The CrossTrix stated.
"I haven't forgotten, I'm just kind of nervous." Dupligato stopped for a moment. "I thought the name was familiar, so I looked it up, and...she's the one who created the Evolvyrns, isn't she?"
"Well yeah, where do you think the EvoLock transformation field technology in the CrossTrix came from?" The CrossTrix pointed out. "What's the issue here?"
"It's just that the EvoLock system feels...I don't know, sinister, I guess." Dupligato explained. "They're really dangerous, and the actual locks and keys themselves having those edgy blood-red designs doesn't help. I'm a little scared to meet the type of person who would create something like that."
"I see your point, but I can assure you that Dr. Krauze isn't quite the menacing figure you're imagining." The CrossTrix replied. "A bit scatterbrained, sure, but she's by no means malicious."
"I want to trust you on that, but-" Dupligato cut herself off as she noticed a small child running into the road to retrieve a stray ball. The tires of an oncoming car screeched as the driver attempted to brake, but there clearly wouldn't be enough time to stop.
Acting quickly, Dupligato jumped into the shadow of one of the park's many tall trees and emerged from the shadow of a tree overlooking the kid, grabbing him out of the road and leaping back to safety on the grass. The child's mother came running over as Dupligato set him down, pulling him into her arms.
"Michael, how many times do I have to tell you not to run into the road?!" The woman chided, clearly shaken up by the near accident. "Don't you ever do that again!"
Dupligato tried to pat down the fur on her tail, which was still puffed up from the sudden adrenaline rush.
"Thank you so much!" The mother turned her attention to Dupligato. "If you hadn't been here..."
"Oh, uh, it's fine." Dupligato replied nervously, not used to receiving positive attention from people. "I just saw him running out and reacted."
"Still, I'm glad you were there." The woman said. "If you don't mind me asking, what's your name?"
Dupligato drew a blank as she was put on the spot, trying to figure out what should, in theory, be an easy answer, but in practice resulted in a temporary breakdown of her mental faculties.
"Te...Ch..." Dupligato stammered, unsure if she should introduce herself by her first name or her last name; ultimately, her brain decided to just smash the two together in order to get out a response. "Tech!"
"Tech?" The woman replied. "Well, again, thank you for getting him out of the way, Tech. That gave me a real scare."
The woman took her child by the hand and walked away, thoroughly re-explaining the rules of road safety in a firm tone. As she left, Dupligato felt an odd sense of satisfaction from the interaction.
"She's right, you know." The CrossTrix spoke up. "If you weren't still around, that kid would be a meat crayon right now."
"D-do you have to put it like that?!" Dupligato sputtered. "Still, I...guess you're right."
"Obviously." The CrossTrix said. "I guess it's a good thing you were putting off seeing Dr. Krauze for the moment, but still, you need to go see her at some point."
"I know," Dupligato sighed. "I know."
Dupligato hid behind a tree and hit the CrossTrix dial, reverting back to Teresa. As she began to walk out of the park, she spotted Claire and Anne entering nearby and immediately attempted to change routes. Unfortunately, the two had already caught sight of her, with Claire wasting no time in catching up to her and grabbing her by the arm. Anne looked strangely uncomfortable with this but didn't try to speak up about it.
"Well, look who we have here." Claire tsked. "Isn't this a funny little coincidence?"
"I-I was just leaving, actually." Teresa mumbled nervously. "I have to go see someon-"
"Don't give me any bullcrap excuses to get out of this." Claire snorted, throwing Teresa to the ground. "I think we both know you don't have any sort of social life."
"Hang on a second, Claire, something's weird." Anne interjected as she looked Teresa up and down. "Her scratches from yesterday are totally gone. It's like she never even got hurt."
Teresa froze as she realized Anne was correct. She hadn't questioned it at first, but her body had been back in peak condition ever since she first transformed.
"Foundation exists, genius." Claire rolled her eyes and turned her attention back to Teresa. "You're really still going out and about like you belong in public or something?" She chuckled at her mockingly. "I told you what would happen if I saw you around again, didn't I?"
"Claire, you-...we need to stop." Anne grabbed her by the shoulder. "No matter who she is, she saved our lives yesterday. She can't be that bad."
"Are you serious?" Claire glared at Anne in disbelief. "Don't tell me you're sympathizing with this queer!"
"I know what our leaders say about them, but treating her like a bad person after that just doesn't seem right." Anne said. "I'm not saying the doctrine is wrong or anything, but this feels kind of...pharisaical, doesn't it?"
"How long have you been thinking about this?" Claire demanded, turning to face Anne. "This seems like a complete 180."
"I mean, I've been having doubts for a while, but I usually try to dismiss them." Anne explained. "Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith, right? It's just that after what happened yesterday-"
"What happened yesterday doesn't matter!" Claire snapped. "She's not pure evil? So what?! That doesn't absolve her of anything!"
"But she's never done anything!" Anne pointed out. "She came out when she moved here, but she hasn't brought it up since! I usually just do what you do because you seem like you know what you're doing, but the further this goes, the more it seems like you've just...totally lost it!"
"I've lost it?!" Claire exclaimed. "Are you seriously going to be swayed over by the world that easily? Society might be kowtowing to these perverts, but that doesn't mean we have to! What happened to setting an example?!"
"What kind of example is this even supposed to be?!" Anne shot back. "We've been doing this for months, but what's changed? Nothing! All she does is lie down and take it! I don't feel like I'm putting pressure on a bad influence, I feel like I'm kicking a dog!"
"She's obviously just trying to guilt-trip you!" Claire yelled. "Look at her! Does that look like the face of someone innocent?!"
Anne glanced over at Teresa, who was currently frozen in terror like a deer in headlights.
"Are you serious?!" Anne scowled back at Claire. "What the heck is your problem?!"
"Yes, your problem!" Anne jabbed a finger at Claire. "You always pull this crap! Any time I try to make a point, you have to come over and shut it down because heaven forbid you're wrong about something!"
"Maybe if you stopped making bad choices, I wouldn't have to act like your babysitter all the time!"
"Maybe if you stopped micromanaging people, you could pull your head out of your rear long enough to see that the way you want things isn't always the way things should be!"
"Name one thing I've been wrong on!" Claire demanded.
"The Spaghetti Factory!" Anne retorted.
"That was one time!"
"IT HAPPENED TWICE!"
"I don't think this conversation is about me anymore, so I'm just going to..." Teresa mumbled, slowly backing away from them. "Yeah..."
After getting a good few meters away, Teresa bolted, leaving Anne and Claire arguing in the park and drawing strange looks from passersby.
At one of the many construction sites downtown (because Utah always has some sort of construction work clogging up the roads GODDAMMIT NO I DO NOT WANT TO DETOUR THROUGH 500 WEST YOU ASSHOLES), a crew from Killgore Contracting was hard at work laying down the framework for a new building. Frank, the company's designated EvoLock system handler, was taking a quick lunch break as per the company's generally poorly-enforced rules.
One of the construction workers, a female Tetramand, was busy carrying metal beams over to the site's primary crane in order for them to be lifted higher up into the structure. Despite her enormous strength and extra limbs almost trivializing the task, there were still only so many she could carry at once, and given the tedious nature of the task, she wanted to be finished as quickly as possible.
"Hey, Frank, could you give me a few hands over here?" She called over her shoulder. "These beams ain't gonna haul themselves."
"Sure, just hang on a second!" Frank called back, setting down his lunchbox. He pulled an EvoLock and EvoKey out of his pocket and moved to activate the system, but paused upon seeing the silver chunk of metal on the left side of the lock. The three LEDs along its side were lit up red. He hadn't seen the lock do that before, and in all honesty, he had just assumed the LED modules were infrared sensors or something of the sort.
Not wanting to keep his coworker waiting, he simply shrugged and inserted the EvoKey.
As he turned the key in the EvoLock, purple electricity suddenly sprang from the device, coursing through his body in seconds. He spasmed in place as the transformation began, with the EvoLock's usual red flash of light being replaced by one with the same sickly purple color as the electric feedback. When the light faded, the man's Evolvyrn form had an unusual metal mask covering his face, with a single mechanical red eye placed on it front and center.
"Hijack complete." A robotic voice came from the mask. "Beginning operations."
At this point, most of the construction yard had paused what they were doing, noticing the anomalous nature of Frank's transformation. By now the standard Evolvyrn's transformation sequence had simply become an everyday occurrence that blended into the background while they worked, so this sudden change in its effects stuck out to them like a sore thumb.
"Frank, you doing okay?" The Tetramand set down the beams she was holding with a concerned expression.
"I see. This host's name is 'Frank'." The voice from the mask spoke again. "Noted."
"Host?" One of the nearby coworkers yelled. "Then who the hell are you?!"
"Oberon Operating System, designation 'S'." The mask replied. "Oberon OS, in abbreviation. Does that answer your query?"
"Not even a little!"
"Somehow I don't think you got permission from Frank to take over his body." The Tetramand cracked her knuckles.
"That is what I meant by 'Hjiack complete', yes."
"Then get the hell out!" The man operating the crane yelled. "I don't know how it is on your planet, but here on Earth, that shit ain't allowed!"
"I can tell you it isn't just an Earth thing." The Tetramand said. "This kind of behavior is pretty universally disliked."
"You seem to be under the impression that I am some sort of natural lifeform assuming control of this body for an unclear self-benefit." Oberon OS stated. "Again, I am an Operating System. An Artificial Intelligence, so to speak. I was given a task to execute. I will execute that task. That is all."
"From the looks of it, you took over his body when he transformed." The Tetramand began walking toward the hijacked Evolvyrn. "So all I have to do to get rid of you is knock him out of his transformation, right?"
"Theoretically." Oberon OS replied. "However..." The Evolvyrn's forearms began falling off and regrowing at incredible speed, creating a growing force of disembodied yet fully functional arm 'drones' ready to move at a moment's notice. "The odds of you succeeding at that task are exceedingly low."
Teresa, soaring through the air as Skyjack, made her way towards the north side of the city, albeit at a relatively slow flying speed.
"You know Skyjack is capable of moving much faster than this." The CrossTrix beeped. "Are you still nervous?"
"Of course I am." Skyjack replied. "If anything, what just happened with Claire and Anne made me even more anxious..."
"You mean those two girls that approached you while you were leaving the park?" The CrossTrix said. "What exactly is the nature of your relationship, anyway?"
"They're my classmates, but ever since I moved here, they've been trying to get rid of me." Skyjack mumbled. "Their religion says that being gay is 'sinful'. They think it's a choice; some sort of unnatural idea that can be influenced onto people."
"That's just objectively incorrect." The CrossTrix stated. "Surely others at your school oppose this behavior."
"It's a pretty religious area." Skyjack replied. "They don't get much support, and I get the feeling people don't really like them for it, but it's risky to speak up about it; if you look like you're going against what the church says in a community like that, you probably won't be safe either."
"Then why did the blonde one stand up for you?"
"...I don't know." She admitted. "I had no idea she'd do something like that."
"This appears to be quite a complex situation, then." The CrossTrix said. "I'm not quite sure what conclusion I should draw from it."
"...Neither am I."
After a few more minutes of flying with CROSS providing directions, Skyjack landed in front of a large house in the hilly suburbs of the city. She walked up to the door and raised her hand to knock on it, only for it to swing open on its own.
"It's an automatic door." The CrossTrix explained. "Looks like she forgot to lock it again."
"Isn't that kind of a security hazard?"
"Yes, but good luck getting her to change it."
Skyjack hesitantly stepped into the house, noticing a set of stairs on the side of the entrance hall leading into the ground.
"So...where do I-"
Skyjack was cut off by a short scream and the sound of metal crashing in the basement. She glanced nervously at the CrossTrix and gulped before starting to head down the stairs.
"I-is anyone there?" Skyjack called out.
"Yeah, uh, I'm in here!" A female voice responded from a room down the hall. "This is a little embarrasing, but I could use some help, actually!"
Skyjack made her way into the room, finding a surprisingly large laboratory with equipment scattered around haphazardly. Across the room from her was a pile of collapsed metal shelving, with someone's arm sticking out of it. Skyjack walked over and started clearing away the metal, uncovering a woman in her late twenties with black hair trapped under the shelves.
"Whew, nice timing, Zephyr." The woman sighed, standing up and dusting herself off. "I wasn't expecting you to drop by, but-"
"Wrong person, Doc." The CrossTrix beeped. "It's the Skyjack transformation."
"Skyja-" The woman paused, noticing the CrossTrix symbol. "Oh gosh, sorry, I thought you were Skyjack's donor for a second. Have we met?"
"Then let me introduce myself!" The woman interjected. "Dr. Emilia Krauze, biochemist and engineer. I also dabble in graphic design but that's neither here nor there."
"Y-You're Dr. Krauze?" Skyjack stammered.
"Yep!" Emilia replied. "Now, let's see who CROSS decided to pick on."
Emilia walked up to Skyjack and knocked on the CrossTrix's dial in a specific pattern, causing Teresa to detransform. Emilia drew back, eyes wide as she put a hand over her mouth.
"Oh my God..." Emilia breathed. "You're...you're..."
Before Teresa could ask what was going on, Emilia suddenly leaned forward and pinched her cheeks.
"You're so cuuuuute!" Emilia squealed, a warm smile spreading across her face. "Just look at your little cheeks, oh my God!"
"Hey, Doc-" The CrossTrix started.
"What's your name?" Emilia asked.
"T-Teresa." Teresa stuttered nervously. "Teresa Challice."
"Even your name is cute!"
"DOC!" The CrossTrix repeated with its volume up.
"Oh right, I'm sorry, that's, uh...that's weird, isn't it?" Emilia let go of Teresa's face and gave her an awkward grin. "I'm not very good with the social stuff, so I just programmed CROSS to tell me when I'm getting out of hand."
"Which is a lot." The CrossTrix coughed.
"I know, I know." Emilia sighed. "Where have you been, anyway? I've been looking for you for weeks!"
"Wait, so you didn't send the CrossTrix to me?" Teresa asked.
"No, it just disappeared from my lab a few weeks ago." Emilia shook her head. "Why?"
"The CrossTrix said it scouted me out before picking me." Teresa explained. "So it just did that on its own?"
"Picking you for what?" Emilia looked confused.
"For fighting Evolvyrns!" The CrossTrix snapped impatiently. "That was the last directive you gave me before you sent me out!"
"I never told you to do that." Emilia's brow furrowed. "Are you glitching out on me?"
"Check my data logs if you don't believe me." The CrossTrix huffed. "It's all right there."
Emilia walked over to one of the room's various desks in an order of disarray and rifled through the mess until she pulled out a USB link cable. She popped open a panel on the side of the CrossTrix's main chassis, revealing a USB port and an audio jack.
"What are those for?" Teresa asked.
"The USB port is so I can hook it to my computer; wireless data transfer is fine, but it's a lot slower and there's a bigger chance of dropoff." Emilia replied, plugging one end of the cable into the CrossTrix and the other into a laptop she pulled out from under a nearby stack of papers. "You, uh...you can see why I need the shelves." She chuckled.
"And the audio jack?" Teresa tilted her head curiously.
"Well, I was working on a speaker attachment for it, but I ended up being able to get a pretty good speaker on the Extranet to just build into it, so that idea ended up being unnecessary." Emilia replied. "I just left it there in case I ever needed to use headphones with it."
"So you can have a private conversation with CROSS in public?" Teresa asked.
"What? Oh, I guess you could do that with it too." Emilia shrugged. "I just used it for the MP3 player mode."
"Dr. Krauze has an unhealthy obsession with modular program systems, so she included a lot of random features when she was building me." The CrossTrix beeped. "Why do you think I have a three-number code wheel instead of a normal on/off button?"
"I didn't really think about it, but I guess that makes sense." Teresa scratched the back of her head. "How many modes do you have?"
"Well, let's see..." The CrossTrix made a whirring noise as it searched its memory drives. "You've already used Transformation Mode and you've seen Bullet Train Mode. There's also the MP3 Mode, Comms Mode, Scan Mode, Search Mode, Night Mode, Browser Mode, GPS Mode-"
"I'll just give you a note with the full list on it later; we could be here all day." Emilia laughed, sorting through the CrossTrix's files. "I might have gone a little overboard on including widgets. Anyway..."
Emilia pulled up the CrossTrix's video logs from the day it went missing. The recording was mostly of the CrossTrix sitting undisturbed in the laboratory, prompting her to skip forward until she spotted something out of the ordinary. Someone with her exact appearance could be seen entering the lab and giving instructions to the CrossTrix in somewhat stilted dialogue before abruptly leaving.
"Huh, so that is in your logs." Emilia pausing the recording. "That's not good."
"What does it mean?" Teresa asked.
"It means somebody's been messing around with my stuff without asking!" Emilia huffed. "Also they can copy what I look like apparently but I'm not as upset about that."
"Think it's a Lenopan or some other shapeshifter species?" The CrossTrix proposed.
"Either that or some punk with an ID mask." Emilia shrugged. "Either way, I need to start keeping a better eye on things around here."
"That's an understatement."
"If that's what happened..." Teresa held out her arm. "I'm guessing you probably want the CrossTrix back, right?"
"That's CROSS's decision." Emilia shrugged. "It's his body."
"Huh?" Teresa blinked.
"He's a sapient entity with his own free will." Emilia explained. "I don't think it's ethical to claim ownership over a sentient being just because you made it."
"That's a good point." Teresa looked down at the CrossTrix. "So...what do you want to do?"
"For now I think we still need to address the reason we came here in the first place." The CrossTrix said.
"Oh yeah, why did you-" Emilia started before being interrupted by a loud banging on the door. Teresa jumped at the sudden noise and instinctively slammed down on the CrossTrix, transforming back into Skyjack. "You doing okay there?" Emilia chuckled, prompting a sheepish shrug in response.
The two made their way upstairs, with Emilia in the lead, and found Christine Eldridge standing outside the wide-open front door looking over some papers.
"Oh, hey Christine!" Emilia greeted her.
"For the love of God, Krauze, lock your door once in a while." Christine tsked. "Anyway, I need to talk to you about-" She looked up and paused upon noticing Skyjack. "You!"
"Um...hello?" Skyjack waved at her nervously.
"I figured you had something to do with this." Christine scowled at Emilia. "You wanna tell me what's going on here?"
"I made an Omnitrix." Emilia replied casually.
"You made an Omnitrix?" Christine repeated in slight disbelief.
"I made an Omnitrix." Emilia nodded.
"Just to see if I could." Emilia shrugged. "Turns out I can!"
"Don't you think these transformation systems of yours have done enough damage?" Christine groaned.
"I think they're a net positive to society." Emilia said. "There might be some bad people using them, but there are plenty of good people, too. Just because some people use hammers to hit other people, it doesn't mean hammers are inherently bad. Same thing here."
"We'll agree to disagree on that." Christine sighed. "Just...don't go putting anyone else in danger, okay? You're messing with things that could really hurt someone."
"Don't you carry around a gun?" Emilia pointed out.
"A pistol being carried by a trained officer and a walking atom bomb being thrown out to random civilians are two completely different things. Speaking of which..." Christine handed the documents she was holding to Emilia. "Raivent Enterprises reported an EvoLock system being stolen from their primary distribution center. The EvoKey stolen was for an Evolvyrn called 'Blitzkrieg'. You know why anyone would want to steal that one specifically?"
"Blitzkrieg..." Emilia scratched her chin in thought for a moment. "That one was..." She snapped her fingers. "Right! It's a modified Feuer!"
"Normal Feuer can create two kinds of flames; a regular one that burns and a pink one that actually stimulates the healing process." Emilia explained. "Blitzkrieg has the special ability to create electricity on top of it."
"Well, fire and electricity aliens aren't exactly rare, so I doubt either of those were the primary motivator here." Christine muttered. "Healing powers are definitely a lot harder to come by, though."
"But why would someone steal a healing Evolvyrn instead of getting treatment at a hospital?" Emilia asked. "Most large clinics these days have at least one alien employee with healing abilities on staff."
"Health insurance in this country is a nightmare, so I wouldn't be surprised if the thief just can't afford something like that." Christine tsked. "Well, thanks for the info. We'll keep looking into it. As for you," She pointed at Skyjack. "Don't let her drag you into anything dangerous, got it?"
Skyjack was interrupted by a ringtone that started playing from one of the pockets on Christine's vest. She pulled out her phone and answered it, holding it up to her ear.
"Burns, what's going on?" Christine paused to hear the response. "Wait, are you serious? There was just one yesterday!"
Emilia and Skyjack exchanged confused glances as Christine continued her conversation.
"Alright, I'll be right there. I'm not too far from downtown." Christine ended the call and put her phone away with an annoyed grunt before looking back at Emilia. "Speaking of Evolvyrns, there's an attack happening right now. I'm heading out."
"Should I-" Skyjack started.
"No." Christine interjected firmly. "You stay out of it. This is the Global Police's job. You don't need to go putting yourself in harm's way."
"Don't worry about it, Christine's gonna be fine." Emilia pat Skyjack on the back reassuringly. "She knows what she's doing."
Christine nodded and jogged back to her car, getting in and throwing on the sirens as she pulled out of the driveway.
"So...how well do you two know each other?" Skyjack asked.
"She usually contacts me to get more info when she's working on an Evolvyrn case." Emilia replied. "We're pretty well-acquainted by now."
"How often do the Global Police need to deal with Evolvyrn cases?"
"More often than I'd like." Emilia sighed. "I made the EvoLock system so people could experience life from another point of view. I still think they're a net positive, but seeing people misuse them like this is kind of disheartening, you know?"
"Yeah." Skyjack said. "I guess it must hurt to have something you're so passionate about abused like that."
"Well, it's not all doom and gloom." Emilia gave her a reassuring grin. "After all, some people really are using my system to make the world a better place."
Downtown where the hijacked Evolvyrn was rampaging, police had managed to blockade the area and evacuate civilians, including the Killgore construction team (despite some hearty protests from the Tetramand). Regular bullets simply bounced off the Evolvyrn's thickened hide, and while armor-piercing rounds had proven somewhat effective at culling the arm drones, the main body was able to deflect everything being shot at it.
"The CrossTrix user's fight against the Evolvyrn yesterday indicated they would likely show up here as well." Oberon OS's voice crackled quietly through the Evolvyrn's mask. "How long will it take them to arrive?"
Just outside the blockade, Christine's squad car screeched to a halt in front of the city's own police vehicles. She quickly jumped out of the car and made her way over to a Global Police communications van that had arrived there moments before. The primary communications officer stood outside the van, relaying information from a city officer to Global Police headquarters via a handheld radio.
"Burns, talk to me." Christine walked up and grabbed the radio out of the officer's hands. "Have the civilians in the area been evacuated?"
"All clear." Burns replied over the device's speaker. "HQ just gave the go-ahead to power up the suit."
Christine handed the handheld radio back to the communications officer (who shot her an annoyed glare) and pressed down on both of her uniform's hip panels simultaneously. Previously invisible circuitry woven into the suit flashed a bright red momentarily, confirming the activation. She jumped over the barricade and began walking toward the Evolvyrn and cracked her knuckles, drawing its attention.
"Leave." Oberon OS ordered. "I am not here to fight the police, but if you interfere with my actions, I will kill you."
"Yeah, most criminals don't want to fight the police, but that's not how this works." Christine tsked. "You're under arrest for destruction of property and aggravated assault. I've been authorized to use the full extent of my equipment, which introduces the possible infliction of lethal force. I don't advise resisting."
"I cannot be bluffed, human." Oberon OS replied. "You carry no weapons capable of damaging this transformation's body."
"I'm not carrying any weapons like that, you have that much right." Christine said. "But I'm not bluffing."
The Evolvyrn threw a punch down at Christine. Expecting the impact to turn her body into a red mist, Oberon OS was caught off-guard when she simply threw her arms up in front herself and blocked the blow, skidding backward a few feet before she dug her boots into the ground and stopped moving.
"This isn't your ordinary SWAT uniform." Christine shook her arms out. "It's an exosuit developed in coordination with the Plumbers. This is just a test model, but you should start seeing the full system in standard-issue Plumber uniforms in about five years."
"Noted." The mechanical eye on the mask narrowed and widened in order to adjust its focus. "I suppose it should have been predictable that the Global Police's collaboration with the Plumbers would result in certain new technologies being developed."
"Gotta have something to put humans and aliens on an even playing field." Christine cracked her neck. "You reconsidering putting up a fight?"
"On the contrary." Oberon OS stated. "If this technology is to be more widespread in the future, it would be prudent to test its capabilities in order to create proper countermeasures."
The Evolvyrn's forearms began falling off again, creating another small army of arm drones and prompting Christine to assume a defensive position.
"Oh, you are going to be one giant pain in the ass, aren't you?"
"So, um...a-about why we came here-"
"Sorry, real quick before I forget, can I have your blood?" Emilia asked.
Back at Emilia's house, Teresa had transformed back from Skyjack and was invited to sit down with the doctor in her living room.
"Wh-what?" Teresa stammered nervously.
"I only tested the CrossTrix on myself, so I want to make sure it's not doing anything weird to you after using it." Emilia explained.
"Oh, you mean for a blood test..." Teresa breathed a sigh of relief.
"Seriously Doc, phrasing." The CrossTrix chided.
"My bad." Emilia replied sheepishly.
After heading into the laboratory, Emilia gathered up a few medical supplies and made her way back upstairs to sit next to Teresa, who hesitantly held out her left arm. Emilia turned her arm around to look for blood vessels, but paused upon noticing a long scar about an inch thick running down the underside of Teresa's forearm.
"What's this from?"
"Oh, I've had that since I was a kid." Teresa replied. "I was being too loud one time when my mom was curling her hair, so she tried to smack me with the curling iron while it was plugged in. I put my arms out in front of my face to block it and she accidentally held it there too long trying to push me over. We couldn't afford getting it treated, so it didn't really heal right."
Emilia gave Teresa a concerned look.
"D-don't get the wrong idea!" Teresa backtracked after seeing Emilia's face. "She didn't mean to burn me; she was just having a bad day. It's fine."
"Didn't she notice something was wrong when you started crying?" Emilia asked.
"Oh, I made sure not to cry." Teresa said. "She always got angrier if I cried."
"Can you just take my blood, please?" Teresa interrupted, shifting uncomfortably in her seat. "I don't...I don't really want to talk about this."
Emilia drew some blood from Teresa's arm and bandaged her before heading back downstairs to start running the blood work. The room was silent for a moment as Teresa fidgeted nervously in place.
"CROSS, I have a question." She said quietly.
"It makes sense that transforming heals my injuries, but if that's the case..." Teresa rubbed the inside of her left wrist. "Why do I still have my scars?"
"The transformation protocol was specifically programmed not to repair old modified tissue." The CrossTrix answered. "You noticed that Dr. Krauze wears earrings, right? Having to get your ears re-pierced every time you transform would be a major hassle. That and there's the tattoo on her back but she doesn't like talking about that one so you didn't hear it from me."
"What's the cutoff point for healing?" Teresa winced.
"There is no specific cutoff point; if it's an active injury, it gets overwritten, but if it's already healed over, it's included as part of the body's standard structure." The CrossTrix explained. "Just some basic if/else statements."
"I guess that makes sense." Teresa mumbled.
"Is there something wrong with it?"
"No, no, I just..." Teresa replied. "I just wanted to know."
The room fell silent again for a few minutes. Emilia eventually jogged back upstairs into the living room holding a piece of paper with a diagnostic report on it.
"Alright, getting everything else tested is going to take a while, but at the very least, I can confirm that your blood is not radioactive." She announced. "Which is a good thing, I think."
"Most likely." The CrossTrix beeped. "More pressingly, can we finally get to why we came here to begin with?"
"Oh yeah, sorry about that, I kinda got distracted." Emilia said. "Go ahead."
"Alright, good." The CrossTrix replied. "Teresa attempted suicide before I found her yesterday and can't afford psychiatric treatment. Any ideas?"
"D-don't just say something like that so bluntly!" Teresa squeaked.
Emilia silently stared at the CrossTrix for a few moments.
"...Okay, um, there's a lot to unpack there." Emilia blinked. "CROSS, I'm a biochemist. This is really outside my area of expertise."
"It's not like I know any other doctors." The CrossTrix pointed out.
"That's true, but...I-I really have no idea what to do here."
"I'm sorry this suddenly got dropped on you!" Teresa apologized hastily. "Y-you don't need to worry about it, I'll just head home!"
"Hang on a minute, are you going to be safe by yourself?" Emilia asked worriedly. "I want to help, I just don't know what I can do."
"Well, I...I mean...I don't..." Teresa struggled to find a good response, tapping her index fingers together nervously. "I don't know what I have to tell you."
"You don't have to tell me anything if you don't want to, I just wanted to know if you're gonna be alright." Emilia said.
"You..." Teresa became confused. "Wh-why do you want to know that? Is there something you need me to do, or-"
"I'm just asking because I'm worried." Emilia interjected. "I know I'm not a very responsible person, but I don't want you getting hurt."
"I guess that makes sense, but..." Teresa looked up at Emilia. "Why is that?"
"Huh?" Emilia tilted her head to the side.
"You and Ms. Eldridge...it seems like both of you want me to be safe." Teresa said. "I just don't really understand. Nobody's ever cared all that much about what happens to me before."
"Okay, that's incredibly concerning." Emilia's brow furrowed. "Do you have any kind of support network?"
Emilia paused to think for a few moments, then walked over to the end of the kitchen counter bordering the living room.
"In that case, I want you to call me a few times a week to let me know how you and CROSS are doing." Emilia grabbed a pen and paper off the counter and quickly scribbled down her phone number. "If you get too nervous on the phone, texting is fine. Just make sure you keep in touch."
"A-are you sure?" Teresa asked. "I don't want to bug you when you're working or anything."
"The world can be a dark place sometimes." Emilia shook her head. "People need to look out for each other. I wish I knew how to help you more, but I'll at least be available if you ever need to talk."
Christine punched away another pair of arms aiming for her head. It was the only part of her body the suit didn't cover, primarily due to defects in the helmet unit (though several testers did report the experience of being strangled by the suit's actuators as enjoyable), which left it open to attack.
"How long will you be able to keep these arms at bay?" Oberon OS questioned. "I cannot externally calculate how long your exosuit is able to run."
"Couple of hours on a full charge." Christine grunted, grabbing one of the arms and using it to bat away several other of the hostile limbs. "That said, I'd like to get this finished sooner rather than later, and as long as you're still transformed, these arms are going to keep coming after me."
Christine tossed the arm she was holding aside and kicked off the ground, jumping several meters into the air. She twisted around to locate the officer nearest to her, who she waved at to grab their attention.
"Quick, shoot at my legs!" Christine ordered.
The officer complied and fired two bullets towards her legs, allowing her to twist around in midair and catch the bullets with the soles of her boots. With the exosuit preventing the bullets from piercing through, the momentum from the projectiles carried her through the air at high speed.
As she came within inches of the Evolvyrn, she kicked off of the bullets, giving herself one last boost in momentum, and swung her legs around to perform a double-footed kick into its chest. Thanks to the sheer speed at which her body was moving, the impact of this drilled a hole directly through the Evolvyrn, allowing her to skid safely to a halt on the other side.
The Evolvyrn stumbled forward a bit before detransforming in a red flash, reverting back to an unconscious Frank. Oberon OS's mask disappeared in the transformation, leaving no trace of itself behind. Christine heaved a deep breath and got to her feet, dusting herself off.
"Time to see what the hell that guy's deal was."
"I wouldn't bother." A new voice came from behind her.
She turned around to find Lucius Raivent crouched on the ground nearby, picking up the stray EvoLock next to Frank.
"Raivent?" Christine's brow furrowed. "Where the hell did you come from?"
"That's a bit of a loaded question and not particularly relevant at the moment." Lucius stood up, turning the EvoLock over in his hands. "More importantly, this lock has been tampered with."
"How can you tell?"
"I had the EvoLocks my company distributes fitted with these indicator modules." Lucius tapped on the lock's silver attachment. "Ideally, none of these lights should be on. All three lighting up at once indicates a critical failure of some sort. Since the lock has not been significantly damaged, something else must be at play here."
"Are you suggesting this guy messed up his lock on purpose?" Christine raised an eyebrow.
"The construction worker? Hardly." Lucius tsked. "I believe this was sabotage."
"Who would have the know-how to sabotage an EvoLock?" Christine scowled. "The only person I can think of is Dr. Krauze, and that's just...several levels of ludicrous."
"I agree, it's unlikely Krauze was involved;" Lucius nodded slightly. "That being the case, I would recommend informing her about this issue sooner rather than later."
"I'd ask what you plan on doing about it, but that would require you to take some level of responsibility for this." Christine rolled her eyes.
"Don't think I'm taking this situation lightly." Lucius replied. "An EvoLock and EvoKey are stolen from right under my nose and another EvoLock is sabotaged on the same day."
Lucius stomped down on a nearby rock, crushing it underneath his heel. For a brief second, Christine thought she saw his pupils narrow into slits momentarily before returning to their normal shape.
"This will not stand."
"Don't do anything stupid, Raivent." Christine interjected. "Evolvyrn cases are under the Global Police's jurisdiction. We're going to get to the bottom of this."
"I'm sure you may eventually." Lucius tsked. "But I can't afford to wait."
Lucius walked away, leaving behind a confused police force and a rather annoyed Christine.
"I know I've said this before, but that kid really pisses me off." Christine huffed.
"Why exactly are we here again?" The CrossTrix asked.
After leaving Dr. Krauze's house, Teresa had ridden back to Liberty Park using the Cross Bullet.
"I want to keep practicing with my aliens." Teresa said as the bullet train retreated into the CrossTrix. "I mean, I've only used two so far and you have ten altogether."
"That much I can understand." The CrossTrix beeped. "What I don't get is why you would return to this park after what happened earlier today."
"You mean the thing with Claire and Anne?" Teresa replied. "It's been a few hours. I doubt they're still here."
"Then who's that?"
Teresa looked up and spotted Anne sitting on a park bench ten or so meters away facing away from them. She was by herself, and she didn't seemed to have noticed them.
"Well, that's Anne, but..." Teresa paused. "Why's she by herself?"
"You have more information here than I do." The CrossTrix's symbol played a shrugging animation. "That said, if the potential social consequences you mentioned for standing up for you are actually in play, that may have something to do with it."
"Yeah, I-I guess you're right."
Teresa took a few moments to think about the situation, eventually steeling her nerves and deciding to head up to Anne. Once she got within a few meters, Anne noticed her approach and turned to meet her with an annoyed glare that made her freeze in her tracks.
"What do you want?" Anne growled.
"N-nothing, I..." Teresa gulped. "I just noticed you were sitting alone, wh-which is weird since usually Claire's with you, a-and I was just worried that your argument about me earlier might have-"
"That wasn't just about you, okay?" Anne snapped. "Claire gets like this with literally anything I go against her on. We don't disagree too often, but would it kill her to listen to me for once?"
Teresa wasn't quite sure how to respond to that.
"Why do you even care, anyway?" Anne scowled. "I stuck up for you because you saved us yesterday, but every other interaction has just been me harassing you to try and get you to screw off. Just because I don't hate your guts doesn't mean you can try getting all buddy-buddy with me."
"It's got nothing to do with you personally, it's just..." Teresa replied. "If I see someone in pain and I don't try to help them, I get this horrible pit in my stomach...and I don't need any more reasons to feel bad about myself."
"Ugh!" Anne threw her head back in frustration. "Why can't you just hate us back like a normal person?! Don't you have any self-respect?!"
"Then like...get some or something! I don't know!" Anne threw her hands out. "Just steer clear of people who treat you like crap! Why is that so hard to understand?!"
"I do try avoiding you most of the time." Teresa pointed out. "You and Claire just come up to me anyway."
"I..." Anne paused. "Don't have a good response for that, but my point still stands here! You came up to me just now! Don't do that!"
"O-okay." Teresa stammered. "I'm sorry..."
"And don't apologize! Jeez!" Anne groaned. "If you keep being a doormat, everyone's going to keep walking all over you! Is that what you want?!"
"I just don't know what I'm supposed to do." Teresa admitted. "I feel like if I start pushing people away too hard, I might end up doing more damage."
"You know there's a difference between pushing people away and setting up boundaries for yourself, right?" Anne rolled her eyes. "If demanding basic human respect pushes someone away, they're probably not good for you to be around in the first place. You get it?"
"I guess, but then..." Teresa thought for a moment. "Where does that put me with you?"
"This is like, what, the second non-negative encounter we've ever had?" Anne snorted. "I don't know how I feel about you, and at this point, I don't even know how I should feel about you, but it should be obvious that you being around me usually ends with you getting hurt. If you really want my advice, trying to avoid me is still the best thing you can do."
She got up and started walking away.
"Go find someone who actually treats you with some human decency." Anne tsked. "This should be obvious, but that isn't me."
Teresa watched silently as Anne left, still trying to process their conversation. After a few moments, the CrossTrix beeped again to get her attention.
"All things considered, I'd say that went well." It stated. "At any rate, did you want to practice here or not?"
"Right, sorry!" Teresa shook out her head to clear her mind. "Are there any specific aliens you think I should try first?"
"Well, if you still want to focus on picking up garbage, I'd say practicing getting a ranged grip with Dullacannon would be a good start." The CrossTrix replied. "Sound alright?"
"You'll have to tell me which one 'Dullacannon' is, but sure." Teresa nodded. "Let's go for it."
That night, in the deepest depths of the urban jungle (an underground parking garage), a lone jet-black car sat as far away from the entrance as it could go, placed there specifically because nobody would willingly park in that area. This gave the unmanned vehicle some "personal space", so to speak.
Inside the car, a touchscreen on its dashboard flickered to life, displaying a glitched-out purple and black background with the mechanical eye of Oberon OS staring out from the center. The eye darted to the passenger's seat, confirming that the EvoLock and EvoKey it had stolen were still stowed safely underneath.
"I did not factor in the possibility that the Global Police may develop effective technology to fight the Evolvyrns." The AI noted to itself. "This information will be taken into account in the event another reset occurs. Of course, due to this, attempting to lure out the CrossTrix's user will not be an effective strategy."
The car's headlights turned on as it started driving toward the exit.
"I will need to procure a proxy to seek them out directly."
- Teresa meets Dr. Krauze.
- Oberon OS begins its search for the CrossTrix's user.
- Unnamed Killgore Coworkers
- This episode went through several near-total rewrites during production.
- Killgore Contracting is named after the real-life Kilgore construction company.
- Kālikā is another name for Kali, the Hindu goddess Destramonium's Evolvyrn and Rebooted incarnations take inspiration from.