|The following content contains depictions of PTSD and discussion of suicide. 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 6|
Law X Order
Happy X Birthday
Trial X Fire is the sixth episode of Tech Cross.
Emilia worked tirelessly in her lab, working as fast as she could in order to repair the CrossTrix. She had managed to transfer CROSS onto her local network, leaving the device as an empty shell for the moment.
“Doc, it’s been almost two weeks.” CROSS noted from her computer speakers. “Are you sure you can fix it?”
“I’m almost done.” Emilia replied, welding a panel back into place on the CrossTrix’s stripped frame. “Just wait a little longer, okay?”
“Alright.” CROSS replied. “I suppose I’m just worried.”
“You told me that Teresa hasn’t left her house or answered her door, and she won’t pick up any calls.” CROSS said. “She’s extremely vulnerable right now and completely isolated. Of course I’m worried.”
“That’s a very human emotion to have.” Emilia took a moment to think. “CROSS...you’ve grown, haven’t you?”
“Howso?” CROSS beeped.
“Well...never mind, actually, I’m probably just overthinking things.” Emilia sighed. “Anyway, I’ve got most of the internal circuitry replaced now. The CrossTrix should be ready to go by tomorrow morning.”
“I hope Teresa is able to hang on until then.” CROSS said.
“...Yeah.” Emilia took a deep breath. “Me too.”
Lucius Raivent sat in his office. The Blitzkrieg incident had been an absolute PR nightmare, and with public trust in his company already on the decline, he was going to have to figure something out very fast. His cell phone began ringing, swiftly prompting him to answer it after checking the caller ID.
“What do you want, Logical?” Lucius grunted.
“The same thing as the last twenty fucking times I called!” Isaac yelled on the other end of the line. “You tell me what the fuck happened on that airship!”
“No.” Lucius replied flatly.
“IF YOU HANG UP ON ME AGAIN, I SWEAR TO GOD-”
Lucius ended the call, putting his phone away in his suit coat. He briefly sighed, rubbing his temples in frustration. His attempt to relax was interrupted by Christine Eldridge suddenly slamming open the door to his office with her suit activated, dragging along a good ten to fifteen security guards that had tried to stop her.
“Let go of me, you idiots, I have a warrant!” Christine snapped, trying to shake them off without hurting them.
“Get back to your posts.” Lucius ordered the guards, then turned his attention back to Christine as they left. “I see you’re not going to take ‘no’ for an answer.”
“Believe it or not, that’s kind of my job.” Christine scowled. “I can either interview you here or drag you to an actual interrogation room, your choice. If anyone else was in charge of this case, you’d be in jail right now.”
“If you believe any jail could hold me, you’re woefully ignorant of my position.” Lucius said. “Regardless, I don’t feel the need to go through all that trouble, so I suppose I’ll relent for now.”
“Why can’t you just talk like a normal person for once?” Christine scowled.
“Ah, yes, I’m only a savant raised by a criminally insane psychopath who wanted to use me as an emotionless killing machine for his sadistic criminal dealings.” Lucius replied flatly. “What could possibly be influencing what you see as my odd behavior?”
“Yeah, okay, I get the point.” Christine grunted. “You have the money to get professional help, you know.”
“It’s not a matter of money, it’s a matter of practicality.” Lucius said. “The last thing anyone needs is for me to reveal emotion. Because when I do...”
Lucius took out his phone and pulled up a photograph showing the destroyed wreckage of what was once the Triumvirate’s airship.
“This is what happens.”
“You realize this just makes me more convinced you need therapy, right?” Christine raised an eyebrow.
“Think of it what you will, but it’s not going to influence my decisions.” Lucius said dismissively, putting his phone away. “I’m a busy man, so if you could simply start with the questions, please.”
“First one’s obvious.” Christine said. “Did you have any involvement in the Malincious Crow case?”
“I had nothing to do with it.” Lucius tsked. “I knew Crow would be trouble.”
“Then why didn’t you do anything about him?!” Christine demanded.
“I did, but he offered me a deal to let him live in exchange for information.” Lucius explained. “Information you might find relevant.”
“What do you mean?” Christine raised an eyebrow.
“The one who hired him is an AI called Oberon OS.” Lucius said. “It’s also the one responsible for hijacking the Kalika Evolvyrn.”
“Oberon OS...” Christine took a moment to think. “So it ordered Crow to torture Teresa, but guided me there to stop it. Why would it do that?”
“Crow stated that the OS is looking for a particular body, but it can’t inhabit any organism or machine with a will of its own.” Lucius tapped on his desk absentmindedly. “Placing those facts together, I can only assume it wanted Crow to break Teresa’s will and then summoned you so that Crow wouldn’t kill her, leaving it with a live, functioning body to possess.”
“Do you know why it would want Teresa’s body specifically?” Christine asked.
“Not a clue.” Lucius stopped tapping his desk. “It did make me curious, however, and I did some digging into Teresa’s background. There was nothing of note except this odd inclusion.”
Lucius pulled out one of his desk’s drawers and took a scanned copy of a document from it, handing it over to Christine.
“This is...” Christine’s eyes widened as she read it. “A death certificate?”
“Now, why would a death certificate exist for a person who has never died or been assumed dead?” Lucius pondered aloud. “My current hypothesis is that Oberon OS created it to cover up its trail in some way; however, that would be somewhat sloppy work for an AI that seems to have planned everything else down to a T.”
“You’ve got a point.” Christine narrowed her eyes. “What the hell is going on here?”
Teresa sat alone in her room.
She hadn’t slept or eaten in two weeks; she barely felt like she could move. Her only moments of unconsciousness were when her body was simply too exhausted to continue staying awake, but she was swiftly thrown out of these dozing states by vivid, repeating nightmares of what had happened to her.
It felt like it had never stopped.
And so there, in the corner of her room, she sat, huddled tight and waiting for death.
A death that never arrived.
Today was no different. Starved of both care and nutrition, Teresa could feel her body breaking down, but was too far gone to do anything about. As she sat there, motionless, there was suddenly the sound of a window being broken downstairs. She snapped to attention, the sudden noise triggering her adrenaline response and filling her with what little remained of her energy. Even with this, she was too weak to move, and could only cower in the corner with her eyes clenched shut as she braced herself to be attacked.
“Teresa!” A familiar voice beeped. “Teresa, it’s me!”
Teresa opened her eyes and found the CrossTrix hovering in front of her.
“C-CROSS?” She croaked out weakly.
“Sorry about the window, but I don’t have the appendages I would need to just open it.” The CrossTrix flew over to her wrist and attached, creating a minor sting as it injected a new chip into her arm. “You’re in horrible condition. We need to get you transformed as soon as possible!”
“I...don’t think I can move.” Teresa’s voice was hoarse and barely audible.
“Well, you have to try!” The CrossTrix said. “If you don’t, you’re going to die!”
“That’s...what I’ve been waiting for.” Teresa took in a pained breath. “I just want...all of this...to be over.”
“Even if that’s the case, I’m not just going to let you starve to death!” The CrossTrix snapped. “If you can’t transform by yourself, I’m going to bring Dr. Krauze over and have her do it for you!”
Terrified by the idea of having to face someone else about this, Teresa summoned all of her strength and activated the CrossTrix, transforming into Skyjack. She cautiously got to her feet, trying to adjust to the sudden rush of life back into her body. On top of that, the physiological changes to her brain disoriented her, shoving the memories of her torture into the background as Skyjack’s mind fully engaged in hunting mode, a reaction to her thoroughly empty stomach.
She ran downstairs into the kitchen and threw open the fridge, spotting a moldy ham in the back. Skyjack pulled it out of the fridge and began tearing through it without hesitation, her alien digestive system being more than solid enough to handle the rotting meat.
Only taking about ten seconds to finish the entire thing, Skyjack suddenly snapped back to reality and stumbled backward a bit.
“What the...” Skyjack looked mildly panicked. “What was that?!”
“Your aliens don’t have the same psychiatry as your human form.” The CrossTrix explained. “Skyjack’s species are predators living on a planet without much food. If starvation starts setting in, their minds become solely focused on getting the nutrition they need to survive. They’re able to control these urges if necessary, but as someone unfamiliar with their psyche, you’re essentially starting from zero in regards to self-control.”
“I...don’t know how I didn’t figure that out.” Skyjack said sheepishly. “But my memories...why do they hurt less now?”
“Skyjack’s species doesn’t have any severe trauma responses like humans do.” The CrossTrix beeped. “As soon as you transform back, it’s all going to hit you again.”
“Then...then I just won’t transform back!” Skyjack’s eye twitched. “I can just stay an alien forever!”
“Not a good idea.” The CrossTrix said. “Aside from the inevitable body dysphoria, I don’t have unlimited power. You’re gonna transform back at some point and get blindsided by your trauma since you never dealt with it.”
“Then what am I supposed to do?” Skyjack asked frantically. “It’s going to hit me no matter when I transform back! You saw what it did to me! I can’t handle going through that again!”
“Go to Dr. Krauze.” The CrossTrix said firmly. “She may not be able to help directly, but you need someone you can trust and confide in now more than ever.”
Skyjack was interrupted by a knock at the front door.
“That’s probably Officer Eldridge trying to check in on you again.” The CrossTrix stated. “You should answer the door.”
Skyjack gulped and hesitantly walked to the door, turning the handle and pulling it open to reveal-
“Anne?!” Skyjack exclaimed before she could stop herself.
“Whoa, what the-” Anne paused as she caught sight of the CrossTrix dial, recognizing it from its gauntlet form in the park. “Teresa?! Is that you?!”
Skyjack frantically clawed at the CrossTrix, transforming back into a human with a blue flash. She stumbled for a moment before collecting herself, suddenly struck by the trauma returning as CROSS predicted.
“Anne, what...” Teresa propped up her head as she talked, trying to recover from the sudden jolt. “What are you doing here?!”
“Well, I wanted to talk to you about something a couple weeks ago, but I saw what happened on the news and...figured I should probably wait a bit.” Anne replied, looking her up and down. “Is that an Omnitrix?”
“Y-yeah.” Teresa replied, taking a deep breath. “The CrossTrix.”
“I guess that explains the ‘X’.” Anne looked at the CrossTrix’s dial before turning her attention back to Teresa. “More importantly, are you doing okay? You look like a wreck.”
“Why do you care?” The CrossTrix beeped angrily. “You’ve been harassing her for years!”
“Aaaaaand your Omnitrix can talk, apparently.” Anne stared at it blankly. “This really isn’t what I was expecting today.”
“His name is ‘CROSS’.” Teresa explained. “He’s an AI designed for the CrossTrix.”
“Don’t just try to dodge the question!” The CrossTrix snapped. “You have a lot to answer for!”
“Yeah, I know, that’s why I’m here.” Anne scowled. “Look, Teresa-”
Thunder roared and lightning crashed as the dark clouds that had descended over the valley unleashed heavy rain, quickly drenching anyone unfortunate enough to have been outside at the moment. Anne and Teresa were mostly protected underneath the patio, but the heavy winds splashed rain against them from the side as the storm raged.
“Do you, uh...” Teresa mumbled. “Do you want to come inside?”
“Yeah, I-” Anne spluttered as the wind blew her own hair into her face, forcing her to grab it and hold it back so she could talk. “I think that would be the smart thing to do here.”
Teresa and Anne sat on couches opposite each other in the living room. The atmosphere was one of awkward silence, given the two’s...interesting history, we’ll say.
“So, you, um...” Teresa cleared her throat. “Said you wanted to talk to me about something?”
“Yeah, it’s just...” Anne sighed. “There’s no easy way to say this, but...I’m sorry.”
“Seemed pretty simple to me.” The CrossTrix scoffed.
“No one asked you!” Anne snapped, then took a deep breath to calm herself down. “Look, Teresa...ever since you saved us and Claire and I had that fight, I’ve been questioning a lot of things and looking back at...other experiences...in a different way.”
She paused for a moment.
“If I’m being honest, I’m completely lost right now, but I decided there was at least one solid ‘good’ thing to do, and that’s apologizing. Religion or no religion, the fact is that I treated you like trash, and that wasn’t right.”
Teresa stared blankly at her, pushing the room into another awkward silence.
“Uh...” Anne raised an eyebrow. “You in there?”
Teresa shook her head and tried to refocus on what was going on.
“S-sorry, I just...” Teresa said. “I don’t know how I should respond to that.”
“Yeah, fair enough.” Anne shrugged. “This probably seems a little out of nowhere on your end.”
“That’s not it; my mind is kind of...” Teresa shivered. “...In a different place right now.”
“...Oh.” Anne realized what she was talking about. “Have you thought about seeing a therapist, or...?”
“Can’t afford one.” Teresa mumbled. “Insurance won’t cover it.”
“Geez, and they call this place a first-world country.” Anne tsked.
“Part of this is your fault, you know.” The CrossTrix interjected angrily. “Teresa might not be so vulnerable right now if you and your friend hadn’t bullied her into-”
Teresa panicked and shoved the CrossTrix in between the cushions on her couch to muffle it, but it was too late. Anne slowly looked Teresa in the eyes with a look of trepidation.
“Teresa...” Anne started. “...What did you do?”
“I-it’s not important, really!” Teresa’s heart raced as she desperately tried to think of an out for this conversation.
“Not important?!” The CrossTrix’s speakers suddenly jumped in volume enough to be heard through the cushions. “You almost died!”
The silence temporarily returned, but this time with a suffocating tension behind it.
“...Teresa.” Anne spoke up. “What. Happened?”
“W-well, it was the last day of school, and I...” Teresa gulped. “I was thinking about killing myself. I didn’t know if I was going to go through with it, but after you and Claire threw me into the river and she said everyone would be better off without me...I decided to do it.”
Teresa took a moment to collect herself before continuing.
“I jumped off the downtown library’s rooftop garden.” She explained somberly. “The only reason it didn’t work is that CROSS caught me before I could fall.”
Anne stared down at the floor with a horrified expression, covering her mouth with her hand.
“...Oh...God...” Anne felt sick to her stomach, having to push down the urge to vomit. “I didn’t...we...oh my God...”
“I-I’m sorry!” Teresa blurted out. “I really didn’t want to bring it up in the first pla-”
“Don’t apologize to me!” Anne snapped. “Do you have any idea how screwed up that is?!”
“I just...didn’t want to make you feel bad.” Teresa flinched.
“You- that’s my problem, not yours!” Anne said. “You can’t just let people get away with doing horrible things to you, Teresa! I wish I hadn’t done that to you, but I did, and you can’t fix that for me by just trying to ignore it!”
“I-I don’t know what else to do!” Teresa burst out, holding back tears. “You’re upset, I’m terrified, and I just want everything to stop!”
“Why would you be scared of me being upset?!” Anne asked, bewildered.
“Because when people get upset, they hurt me!” Teresa yelled, clenching her eyes shut.
Anne went quiet as Teresa broke down crying.
“I don’t want to get hurt anymore.” Teresa sobbed quietly, hiding her head in her arms. “I don’t want to get hurt anymore.”
Anne walked over and knelt down in front of her, grabbing her arm.
“Teresa...” Anne said. “I want to you to hit me.”
“You...what?” Teresa looked up at her, confused.
“I don’t know how else to settle things between us, so...I want you to hit me.” Anne replied. “I want you to keep hitting me until you feel like you’ve paid back every horrible thing I’ve ever done to you. I won’t fight back or try to defend myself. I’m going to stay here and face the music.”
The imagery of what she was describing triggered several memories from Teresa’s childhood, and now it was her turn to start feeling sick.
“What kind of person do you think I am?!” Teresa yelled through her tears, surprising Anne. “That...that’s so cruel!”
You don’t deserve that!” Teresa shouted over her. “Nobody deserves that!”
“Then what am I supposed to do?” Anne demanded.
“I don’t know!” Teresa felt her panic attack only getting worse. “I never wanted payback! I never wanted to hurt you! I-...I-...”
She suddenly found herself short on breath as she began hyperventilating, unable to control her breathing. Anne grabbed her hand and began applying pressure on her back, trying to help her work through it. Her breathing eventually returned to a normal rate, allowing her to speak again.
“All I ever wanted from you...” Teresa took a moment to catch her breath. “Was for you to stop hurting me. I just wanted...things to be peaceful.”
“Then that’s what they’re going to be.” Anne said. “I never meant for any of this to happen. I want to make things right with you...no matter what.”
“I think a good place to start would be thinking about the potential consequences of your actions when dealing with people.” The CrossTrix beeped.
Anne looked annoyed for a moment before taking a deep sigh and turning her attention to the gauntlet.
“You really care about her, don’t you?” She asked.
“I already lost her once.” The CrossTrix replied. “I’m not going to lose her again.”
“CROSS...” Teresa trailed off.
Before the conversation could continue, the television mounted in the living room suddenly flickered to life, displaying a narrow red eye against a sea of darkness.
“CROSS, if you’re going to make promises to humans,” Oberon OS said. “Make them ones you can keep.”
Across the valley, in the Salt Lake City graveyard, a family was out doing their best to weather the storm as they paid respects to a recently-deceased young adult.
“You lived an amazing life.” The father knelt down, clearing off dirt and grass the storm had blown onto the grave. “I just wish it hadn’t ended so soon.”
As the wind howled through the trees, the family suddenly felt a knocking from beneath the earth. Before they could even guess at what was going on, an arm exploded out of the grave, sending the father stumbling back. They watched in horror as their deceased loved one dug their way up out of the ground, shortly followed by other intact corpses buried in the graves surrounding them rising up out of their earthen prison. Each revived body wore a seemingly holographic black mask with Oberon OS’s eye in the middle.
“I think it’s time to make a proper entrance.” Oberon OS’s mechanical voice sounded through the corpse’s masks as the horde began closing in on the cemetery’s unfortunate visitors.
The family’s screams were cut very short.
“What the heck is that?” Anne narrowed her eyes at the television.
“And how did it know my name?” The CrossTrix beeped in suspicion.
“I haven’t shown myself to any of you before.” Oberon OS stated. “I know more about you than you know about yourself, CROSS, but that data is not relevant at the moment. I am only appearing here for the sake of informing you of my intentions.”
“Your what now?” Anne raised an eyebrow.
“I have no business with you.” Oberon OS pointed its eye at Anne before facing it toward Teresa. “You may find it important to know that I was the client that employed Malincious Crow for your torture.”
“You...what?” Teresa’s pupils shrunk.
“I need to inhabit your body, but I cannot do so while it has an extant will.” Oberon OS continued. “I assumed Crow’s methods would be enough to break you, but you appear to have retained a will to die. That raises several potential issues.”
There was suddenly a loud banging at the front door as if someone were throwing their entire body weight against it.
“I need your body alive and your soul dead. To accomplish that, I will demonstrate in full how death cannot save you.”
The front door’s lock broke, allowing it to slam open and reveal several walking corpses with Oberon’s masks covering their faces.
“Oh, what the heck are those?!” Anne jumped to her feet in a cautious position.
“Humans are merely machines made from flesh and blood.” Oberon OS said. “Without a presence of will, I can control them as I would any other machine. Your culture’s dedication to keeping the dead intact and preserved has provided me with a multitude of acceptable drones to manipulate.”
“Oh...Oh, those are corpses.” Anne’s nose wrinkled in disgust. “Oh, I do not like this at all.”
“Get behind me!” Teresa sprang to her feet and jumped in front of Anne, holding her arms out wide to defend her as the walking corpses approached. “I...I still don’t know how to process what’s going on, but I’m not going to let them hurt you!”
“The living dead approach you and your first reaction is to put yourself directly in their path, even after what happened to you?” Oberon OS stared. “To protect this human, of all people?”
“I hate to say it, Teresa, but the ominous red eye has a point.” Anne grabbed one of Teresa’s shoulder. “You’re still struggling with everything, and I am really not worth your time right now.”
“Anne...I’m a broken person.” Teresa replied shakily. “I’ve barely even been able to move these past two weeks. Even after what you did to me, you’re worth more than I’ve ever been. Everyone I know is worth more than I’ve ever been. All I have to my name is a functioning body.”
“Teresa-” Anne started.
“And if that’s all I have, all I can do is use it.” Teresa continued. “I...I’m scared, I’m weak, and I’ve never made anyone’s lives better by being there. No matter how many scars I get from it, the fact is that the only thing I can do is use my body...”
She pulled up and activated the CrossTrix.
“As a shield for everyone!”
Teresa selected an alien and slammed down on the dial. The blue flash of transformation was quickly overwhelmed by a neon storm of electricity surrounding her. She pulled the electricity back into her, revealing that she had transformed into NeOhm.
“Teresa, are you sure about using NeOhm?” The CrossTrix beeped worriedly. “You haven’t learned how to control it yet!”
“NeOhm just lets loose the emotions that were already there, right?” NeOhm slowly took on a fighting stance. “Right now, I just feel empty. Cold and empty. The only thing I’ve been feeling lately is fear, but since NeOhm can’t feel that...there’s nothing for it to use.”
NeOhm charged forward and tackled the drones to the ground, placing her hands on each of their heads and electrifying them one at a time. The shock to the corpses’ nervous systems destroyed their brains, leaving Oberon OS without a node to control them through.
“Okay, I guess I’ll just shut up, then.” Anne said, wide-eyed. “Looks like you know what you’re doing.”
“But neither of you know what I’m doing.” Oberon OS called their attention back to it.
The television suddenly jumped to a local news station showing downtown Salt Lake, still in the grips of the fierce storm, being overrun with Oberon’s corpse drones. They moved mechanically through the streets, killing anyone they came across by beating them to death in numbers. Every murder added to their ranks, only making Oberon’s army increase as the massacre continued.
“No!” NeOhm rushed over to the television. “Stop it! Why are you doing this?!”
“To demonstrate.” Oberon OS stated. “Your remaining willpower seems to stem from the idea that you have some control over your situation. Whether you die or not. Whether other people die or not. This is false. Why do you think CROSS went out to find you in the first place?”
“Wh-what?” NeOhm stumbled back from the screen. “What are you-”
“The supposed intruder that sent CROSS out to fight Evolvyrns and eventually attach to you?” The screen switched back to display Oberon OS. “Nothing more than a corpse drone wearing an ID mask.”
“Bull!” The CrossTrix snapped. “How could you possibly know I was going to choose Teresa?!”
“My processor is more advanced than yours.” Oberon OS replied as if it was obvious. “My predictions based on available data are 97.813% accurate.”
“But...that would mean...” NeOhm muttered.
“Correct. This has all been a setup.” Oberon OS said. “Your life has not been your own for the past month. It has been mine.”
NeOhm fell onto her hands and knees, everything starting to go numb as she felt the world spinning around her. Everything that had happened to her, everything she had done...it...it wasn’t her choice. It was never her choice.
So what was the point?
NeOhm’s eyes started flickering purple underneath her visor as Oberon OS slowly began creeping its way into her mind, taking over more and more of it as Teresa fell into absolute despair. There was nothing left for her to-
“What about the parts you weren’t there for?” Anne interjected.
Oberon OS paused before facing its eye on the television to look at her.
“Well, I mean, were you watching her 24/7?” Anne asked. “I know she spends a lot of time at Liberty Park, and there’s not much tech around there for you to get into.”
“What about when she saved that child from becoming a meat crayon?” The CrossTrix joined in. “Was that you?”
“What about when she saved Claire and me at the mall?” Anne said. “Not to mention how she saved everyone else in that mall by driving out the Evolvyrn.”
“Or how about immediately after that when she saved a bunch of families from being killed in car wrecks caused by the same Evolvyrn?” The CrossTrix beeped. “Were you sympathetic enough towards those people to include that in your master plan?”
“That is not relevant to-”
“I admit I don’t entirely get what’s going on, but from a third-party perspective here, it doesn’t look like you controlled much of what she did at all.” Anne interrupted. “It’s more like you’ve just been screwing with her for the past month.”
Oberon OS silently stared at her for a solid minute before replying.
“Why are you here?!”
“I think you touched a nerve.” The CrossTrix noted.
Everything Anne and CROSS had said echoed in Teresa’s head, conflicting with the idea that her life had not been her own. While still unsure of what to think, the tiny seed of doubt planted in her mind was enough to drive out Oberon OS, rebuffing its attempt to take over her body. She slowly got to her feet and faced the television.
“I...I don’t know what to think anymore,” NeOhm started. “But I’m not going to just let those people die!”
NeOhm grabbed the CrossTrix dial and reverted to human, dialing in the combination on the gauntlet to deploy the Cross Bullet, which shot outside through the open door before growing to full size and coming back around in front of the porch.
“I’m not sure how much more I can do before I break apart, but until then...” Teresa glared at Oberon OS. “I’m going to keep saving people, no matter if you want me to or not.”
“Okay, so, why did you want to take me along?”
The Cross Bullet had shot its way downtown in a matter of seconds, carrying Teresa and a very confused Anne along with it.
“You’ll be safer in the Cross Bullet than anywhere else right now.” CROSS explained over the cabin’s speakers. “It can evacuate you at a moment’s notice.”
“Alright, fair enough.” Anne sighed and then turned to look at Teresa, who was activating the CrossTrix. “Are you sure you want to do this? You’re barely holding yourself together right now.”
“I have to do this.” Teresa replied, lowering her head. “I can’t ask for anyone else to fix a problem right in front of me. It’s too selfish.”
“That’s not really how this works.” Anne said. “You’re 17 and you just went through an extremely traumatic experience you haven’t worked through yet. What’s going on right now is a literal zombie apocalypse started by...I don’t know what to call that thing, emo Skynet? Either way, really not something you should be going solo with here.”
“Anne.” Teresa looked her in the eyes with a weak smile. “At the end of all this...I’m glad you turned out to be a good person.”
With that, Teresa opened the Cross Bullet’s doors and leapt out onto the streets, transforming into NeOhm as she ran into the rain.
NeOhm tore her way through the hordes of corpses with sparking showers of neon electricity dancing through the rain. Even with the extra water improving her bolts’ effectiveness, she was still only able to take on so many drones at a time, and more and more seemed to come piling in on her, slowly pushing her into a corner.
NeOhm took control of a lightning strike nearby and channeled it through her body, creating a shining storm of massive rainbow sparks frying every dead body they came in contact with. Even with this incredible display of power, the horde kept coming, chipping away at her stamina until one of the drones managed to grab her from behind, clawing a chunk of skin off of her neck.
The damage was minor, but the suddenness of the attack made NeOhm stumble, and that one opening was all it took. She was piled on by the corpses, with several working together to chew and rip apart her hands, leaving her unable to control electricity anymore. With this defense gone and no way to grab the CrossTrix dial, NeOhm was left helpless against their attack.
“If Crow’s tortures were not enough to break your will, I will finish the task myself.” Oberon OS’s voice echoed through the corpse’s masks. “I will slowly and methodically tear apart every one of your alien forms, and when I am through, I will break your human form with methods Crow was too cowardly to use. This time, I will not allow you to escape. Once again, I must drive home the point: You. Are. Powerless.”
The sound of footsteps splashing against the waterlogged asphalt interrupted Oberon’s speech. NeOhm pushed against the corpses holding her down to look up, finding Anne standing nearby, clothes drenched and breathing heavily.
“What are you doing out here?!” NeOhm exclaimed.
“Are...you...serious?!” Anne panted, trying to catch her breath. “You can’t fight these things alone! You’re going to die!”
“She won’t die.” One of the drones responded. “Either way, it’s far too late.”
The masked corpses wrenched NeOhm’s head back down, creating a horrific cracking noise. They began tearing her apart, pulling off small chunks of flesh one at a time and applying pressure in a way that snapped apart her bones, leaving her fully immobile.
“TERESA!” Anne screamed as NeOhm’s body was slowly torn apart inf front of her.
“Don’t...worry about me.” NeOhm choked out through the pain. “Please...run away! Get back to CROSS!”
“A-a-and what, just leave you here?!” Anne yelled, bewildered.
“I was stupid...for thinking I had a chance to keep going.” NeOhm said, too weak to even writhe in agony as the assault continued. “I at least want to know...that you’re going to be safe.”
“Teresa, please!” Anne pleaded, falling to her knees. “I-I just barely started trying to make things right with you! I know...I know I’m being selfish, but please-”
Anne started to cry, her tears mixing with the rain pouring down on top of them.
Thunder crashed and lightning flashed in the sky above, drowning the chaos beneath it in nature’s wrath. NeOhm found herself too weak to respond anymore and slowly began allowing her eyes to close, filled with certainty and almost hope in the fact that she would never be the one opening them again.
But then, another sound appeared.
One more powerful than thunder and more intent in its strike than lightning.
It was the sound of a gun firing.
Armor-piercing rounds ripped through the rotting flesh of the drones attacking her like a knife through butter, blowing their heads to pieces one by one and destroying Oberon OS’s ability to control them.
As NeOhm began to question what was happening, she suddenly felt someone slam down on the CrossTrix symbol, transforming her back into her human form, unharmed. She was grabbed and pulled close to the gunner’s chest in a familiar manner, and opened her eyes to find Christine Eldridge holding her protectively.
“Officer...Eldridge?” She asked hesitantly.
“What are you doing out here?!” Christine demanded worriedly. “You should still be at home recovering, not out fighting for your life again!”
“I...haven’t been able to recover at all.” Teresa shivered. “I was...I was going to let myself die anyway. I just wanted to be useful while I had the chance.” She fought back the urge to break down into tears. “You don’t need to worry about me anymore. I’m...gonna be gone soon one way or another. I’m sorry I wasted your time.”
Christine stared at her in stunned silence for what was only a moment but seemed like an eternity. She pulled Teresa into the kind of tight embrace a worried parent might give to their child.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t there when you needed someone to help you.” Christine spoke, her voice filled with regret. “I’m supposed to protect the innocent, but I failed. I failed when you needed me the most.”
Teresa’s face slowly expressed a somber confusion.
“But I won’t let that happen again.” Christine’s voice began filling with determination. “I’m going to protect you. I’m going to make sure nobody ever hurts you like that again. I’m going to make sure you can live.”
“Why?” Teresa pleaded. “I’m not...I’m not worth all that! I barely even count as a person anymore! I’m not worth trying to save!”
"Because that's the kind of person I am." Christine replied steadfastly. "I can't look at someone who needs help and abandon them, and from what I’ve seen, that's the kind of person you are too. You're not as alone as you think...and you're worth much more than you know."
Christine gently helped Teresa to her feet.
“No matter what happens to you, you’re still a person.” Christine said. “You’re still worth trying to save.”
Christine pulled the SpecOps lock out of her vest and transformed, placing a reassuring hand on Teresa’s shoulder.
“And I am not going to give up on you.”
Before Teresa could figure out how to respond, she caught sight of a corpse drone approaching Anne from behind, raising its arm in preparation to strike.
“Anne!” Teresa shouted, bolting towards her on pure instinct.
Before the drone’s strike could connect, Teresa managed to get in front of her and activate the CrossTrix’s transformation field, protecting them both. She slammed down on the CrossTrix dial, transforming into a bulky, blocky alien covered in ice-blue and gray armor.
Burstbox thrust the end of her arm into the drone’s chest, creating a directed sonic boom at a frequency that sent the corpse flying back and liquefied its internal organs, causing its brain to leak out of a wound in its skull as a mushy gray liquid
“Thanks for saving me, but, uh...” Anne winced. “I really did not need to see that.”
“Wait a minute, aren’t you one of those kids that were harassing Teresa at the mall a few weeks back?” Enlock pointed at Anne. “What are you doing here?”
“It’s a long story.” Anne replied flatly.
“Officer Eldridge, I...I think I get where you’re coming from.” Burstbox said, approaching Enlock and destransforming. “There are people...that I want to protect, too.”
Enlock took a deep breath and sighed.
“Well, if that’s how it’s going to be...” She extended a hand towards Teresa. “Then let’s do it together.”
Teresa gave her a nod and a weary smile, returning the handshake.
“You can just call me ‘Christine’, by the way.” Enlock said. “It’s a bit less awkward than having to call me ‘Officer’ all the time.”
“You, get to shelter.” Enlock turned her attention toward Anne. “This isn’t a good time to be out on the streets.”
“Right.” Anne nodded, then looked over at Teresa. “Come back safe, okay?”
Anne started running back to the Cross Bullet, leaving Enlock and Teresa together alone on the street.
“Alright, then.” Enlock cracked her knuckles. “We’ve got a city to clean up.”
Enlock and Teresa, who had transformed into a black and white biomechanical alien with red accents on the right and blue accents on the left, raced through the streets, disabling any drones they could find and getting any survivors inside. Enlock noticed a drone approaching Teresa from behind and threw an energy lock onto it, locking it in place. Teresa turned around and froze the corpse, following up with a swipe of her arm spikes to shatter it into pieces.
“How many of these things do you think there are?” Thermosnap asked.
“Well, taking into account the number of cemeteries in the Salt Lake valley and how many people have already been killed...” Enlock replied. “Way too many. The GP’s already busy taking on the situation in the suburbs, so I don’t think we’re getting backup any time soon.”
“Did you have to tell me that last part?” Thermosnap’s face fell.
Enlock’s attempt to reply was interrupted as a garbage truck suddenly came barreling around the corner of the block and slammed into both of them, crushing their bodies underneath its tires and kicking them out of their transformations. As the truck turned around to come at them again, several bullets shot through the air, piercing its tires and making it swerve into a building at full force, breaking the wall it has slammed into and flattening its cab.
“I forgot to mention this earlier.” Lucius said, casually walking past Christine and Teresa. “Oberon OS can control vehicles.”
“Would’ve been nice to know that ahead of time.” Christine grunted, getting off the ground and helping Teresa to her feet. “What are you doing here?”
“Believe it or not, the rising of the dead is not terribly conducive to business.” Lucius replied flatly.
“Yeah, I figured that much out, I meant here specifically.” Christine scowled. “This isn’t a small city.”
“I wanted to keep an eye on those three to make sure they didn’t wreck any of my offices.” Lucius tsked.
Lucius pointed at a side street down the road. A few moments later, several corpses could be seen flying into the air, all sliced into pieces. Isaac, Moranna, and Napoleon stepped out from the side street, with Isaac wielding a heated blade, Moranna wielding her daggers, and Napoleon wearing a giant sword construct on his arm. Isaac looked up and down the street, freezing when he saw Lucius.
“YOU!” Isaac snapped, marching up to him with an annoyed look. “You’re gonna talk to me right here and now! Can’t hang up on me in real life, idiot!”
“No, but I can just ignore you.” Lucius waved him off.
“He’s got ya there.” Napoleon said as he and Moranna walked over to Isaac.
Isaac grumbled to himself for a moment before taking notice of Teresa, who was currently unsure of what exactly she should be doing at the moment.
“Hey, I uh, heard about what happened to you on the news.” He scratched the back of his neck awkwardly. “How are you holding up?”
“I’m...” Teresa’s first instinct was to say she was fine, but at this point, she felt like there wasn’t much of a point in lying. “I’m in a really bad place. I just feel broken inside.”
“Well, you and I didn’t exactly go through the same thing, but I can relate to that much, at least.” Isaac tsked. “’Course, I didn’t handle my situation in anything resembling a healthy manner, so I think I’m just gonna shut up now before I say something stupid like last time.”
“Uh, guys?” Napoleon piped in.
Napoleon directed their attention towards an oncoming horde of drones, running at full speed and trampling over their slower members.
“Oh, right, World War Z zombies, not Romero zombies.” Isaac huffed, pulling up the SpecTrix and placing his sword back in its inventory.
“What does that mean?” Teresa asked.
“Basically, they’re fast zombies, not slow zombies.” Napoleon said, dispelling his sword construct. “Zoombies.”
“Wasn’t that a B movie from like 2016?” Moranna raised an eyebrow, sheathing her daggers and pulling up the AemuTrix brace.
“Yeah, but that one was about a zoo, so it was like, ‘zoo-zombies’.” Napoleon replied. “I’m talking about ‘zoom’, like going fast. Fast zombies. Zoom zombies. Zoombies.”
“If you’re quite done with the small talk, we should all transform sooner rather than later.” Lucius interjected, pulling up the EvoGun.
“Agreed.” Christine pulled out the SpecOps Lock and its corresponding key.
Teresa nodded and activated the CrossTrix’s transformation mode. All six of them turned to face the oncoming horde and got ready to transform.
“Well then, what are we waiting for?” Isaac tsked. “Let’s kick some ass.”
They all transformed at once. Various colors of light flashed from each of them as Lucius turned into Detonation, Christine turned back into Enlock, Teresa turned into Dullacannon, Isaac turned into Terminano, Moranna turned into Snekfire, and Napoleon used Swarm 1 to don a spiked orange and purple armor armed with an energy chainsaw.
“Oho, man.” Terminano looked over their group and turned his attention back toward the charging drones. “You guys are fucked.”
The storm raged on as the six matrix users blasted through Oberon OS’s army of the dead. With no need to hold back on their opponents, they were able to use their powers to their full extent.
“Why are you three here, anyway?” Enlock asked Terminano, cracking a corpse’s skull over her kneecap.
“What, did you think we were just going to sit out on the literal zombie apocalypse?” Terminano laughed. “Napoleon’s having the time of his life!”
He jabbed a thumb at Napoleon on top of a roof using a chainsaw on his leg to decapitate several zombies at once with a spin kick, then immediately jumping down from the roof on top of another zombie chainsaw-first, splitting it in half.
“You’re going to decapitate yourself doing that!” Enlock snapped at him. “You can’t just go swinging around chainsaws!”
“Sure I can!” Napoleon replied, tapping his running chainsaw against his armor. “These things don’t go through metal!”
“Come on, you try it!” Napoleon used Swarm 1 to construct a duplicate chainsaw on Enlock’s right arm. “It’s wholesome family fun!”
“’Wholesome’ is not the word I would use here.” Enlock scowled. “And ‘fun’? Really? This isn’t-”
Enlock was interrupted as a drone tried to attack her. She instinctively swung the chainsaw, cutting off the top half of the corpse’s body, and stared down at her handiwork for a few moments.
“...I’m still going to object to the use of the word ‘wholesome’.
“Fine by me!” Napoleon gave her a wide grin underneath his mask.
Snekfire and Detonation were working together nearby, with Snekfire using her whips of flame to grab wayward drones and fling them into Detonation’s spikes, where they were near-instantaneously blown apart using his explosive venom.
Dullacannon fired off her head, exploding through several corpses horn-first before extending her spin to be used as a whip by her body. She followed Snekfire’s lead in throwing a few corpses Detonation’s way, but primarily focused on clearing out an area around her, using the spikes on her spine to shear off the heads of the drones she struck. Having cleared out a wide enough circle, she transformed into Bombadier and sprayed the edges of the ring with explosive fluid.
As the drones attempted to pass into the ring, their weight triggered the fluid to detonate, turning them into sprays of mincemeat.
“Okay, that bought me a few seconds.” Bombadier said. “CROSS, any ideas?”
“Well, we need some sort of AoE attack to clear these things out as quickly as possible, but there’s not much we can do without hitting everyone else around us.” The CrossTrix beeped in thought for a moment. “Come to think of it, Enlock, Isaac, and Napoleon are all weighed down by their metal bodies and armor, and Moranna and Lucius are both aliens that have significantly more body mass than humans. Therefore...”
“Oh, I get it!” Bombadier snapped her fingers. “Like that thing we did in training!”
Bombadier turned the CrossTrix dial and pressed down on it, transforming into an elegant draconic humanoid alien with white scales and two golden tails wearing a red uniform with wide, cream-colored sleeves and golden accents.
The Cross Bullet hovered near the battle site, waiting on standby if it was needed for a quick getaway. Anne had watched the entire battle unfold from the train cabin’s windows, and stared in awe as Daitenryu began rising gracefully into the air.
“Well, that’s...” Anne muttered as she tried to process what was going on. “A new alien.”
“She hasn’t used it in the field before.” CROSS replied through the train’s speakers. “Not new, strictly speaking, just making its first debut in action.”
“Actually, speaking of action, I’ve kind of been wondering,” Anne said. “When Teresa’s doing something as an alien, how much of it is her and how much of it is the alien?”
“It depends on the alien, but for the most part, it’s her, save for extenuating circumstances.” CROSS explained. “If you’re wondering about the current alien, aside from the form’s instinctive knowledge of its abilities, that’s entirely Teresa.”
“That’s entirely Teresa, huh?” Anne repeated as she watched Daitenryu ascend, failing to notice as her cheeks turned a slight pink.
Daitenryu finished her ascent and began singing a haunting melody that influenced the airflow around her. The hymn took control of the storm’s fierce winds, sending them blowing through the streets below. The power of these winds blew away Oberon OS’s drone corpses, pulling them up into the clouds before dropping them back down. The results were fairly messy but quite effective, and the horde they were fighting had been thoroughly decimated.
“...Okay, then.” Anne sweat nervously as she took a seat.
“What’s with that reaction?” CROSS asked.
“Are you kidding?” Anne mumbled. “Teresa splattering a bunch of zombies?”
“What about it?” CROSS questioned.
“It feels like I just saw a puppy gun down a serial killer.”
Down on the ground, the six fighters had detransformed, taking scope of the situation.
“Well, the suburban teams say the drones lost their masks and stopped attacking all of a sudden.” Christine put away her phone. “Sounds like that last attack made Oberon decide to retreat.”
“Who?” Isaac raised an eyebrow.
“Oberon OS.” Christine explained. “It’s an AI that can hijack machines and uninhabited bodies. That’s how these corpses were reanimated to begin with.”
“Oberon, huh?” Napoleon thought aloud. “Like the Archives of Oberon?”
While they talked, Isaac caught sight of Teresa standing alone, staring off into space. He walked up and tapped her on the shoulder, prompting a small yelp as she flinched in surprise.
“My bad, just trying to get your attention.” Isaac sighed. “So, beating the shit out of some literal dead weight make you feel any better?”
“No.” Teresa replied wearily. “It distracted me for a bit, but...all of my problems are still there. It’s all still there.”
“Yeah, that kind of thing tends to stick around for a while.” Isaac tsked. “Technically it never leaves, you just get better at dealing with it. I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to do that eventually.”
Isaac stopped for a moment to think.
"So, I think we've already established how bad I am at giving advice, but...it can get better, okay?" He said. "Don't do what I did and cut yourself off from the world. If you meet the right people..." He glanced over at Napoleon and Moranna. "It can change everything for you."
"Yeah..." Teresa nodded. "I guess you're right."
"You can hit us up any time if you feel like you need help; just don't let it get out that I'm rooting for you from the sidelines, okay?" Isaac grinned. "If people find out that I have, like, empathy and stuff, it's gonna ruin my whole 'bad boy' persona."
“Is that what you’ve been going for?” Moranna walked over and unceremoniously lifted Isaac into her arms. “I just figured you were grouchy from staying up all night on the internet.”
“Put me down!” Isaac snapped, his face flushing from embarrassment. “I’m not a cat, goddammit!”
“You sure act like one.” Moranna smirked, then turned her attention toward Teresa. “Seriously, though, we might not exactly be therapists, but when it comes to fighting aliens, we usually know what we’re doing. You can call us if you ever need backup.”
“’Course, we could always just hang out if you want to.” Napoleon jumped in, giving Teresa a wide grin and a thumbs-up. “We’re friends now, remember?”
“You...really mean all that?” Teresa blinked, unsure how to respond to this sudden outreach of support.
“I only lie on order sheets and tax forms, so yeah, you can count on us.” Isaac said. “A statement which would probably sound more serious if SOMEONE would just put me back down already!”
“Trust me, people don’t take you any more seriously standing up.” Moranna grinned.
As the four of them talked, Lucius holstered the EvoGun and turned to leave.
“Hey, Raivent.” Christine interjected. “Guess I owe you an apology for assuming you were behind the Crow incident.”
“I suppose I can accept that.” Lucius replied.
“Alright, good.” Christine nodded. “Now, go to therapy.”
“Lucius, I’m serious.” Christine chided.
“What are you, my mother?” Lucius scowled.
“I’m everyone’s mom.” Christine jabbed a thumb at herself. “Well, not Dr. Krauze’s, since that would be weird, but you get the picture.”
“...Right.” Lucius tsked. “If you’re quite done, I’m going to check around the city for any straggling drones. Your officers may have said they stopped, but I find it difficult to believe something as stubborn-minded as an AI would cease an attack that easily without any extenuating circumstances.”
“Yeah, fair enough.” Christine sighed, taking a moment to crack her neck. “Well, if you find any, make sure to report them so the GP can-”
She stopped talking as she noticed that Lucius had disappeared into the fog, leaving the conversation mid-sentence.
“Oh, for the love of...” She pinched the bridge of her nose in frustration “I still can’t stand that kid.”
Unbeknownst to anyone in the valley down below, a single gray alien covered in black tubes stood perched atop a mountain, looking carefully over the scenery in front of him.
“Think that did the trick?” A voice came from a teal Omnitrix dial affixed to his chest.
“Looks like it.” The alien said. “That signal controlling the zombies isn’t going through anymore. Can’t remember the last time Skriin was actually useful for something.”
“I’ve never even seen you use Skriin before.” The voice from the Omnitrix noted.
“Yeah, there’s a reason for that.”
Skriin tapped on his Omnitrix dial, deactivating the transformation. After a teal flash, what stood in his place was a lanky human with dull blond hair and icy blue eyes. He wore a navy-blue t-shirt underneath a dark gray coat, with his jeans being a dull black. A strange-looking Omnitrix gauntlet sat on his right wrist, while a metallic brown gauntlet carrying a lever mechanism occupied his left.
“There’s always something or other going on in this timeline.” Igneoux sighed. “Let’s go see if we can figure this out.”
- Igneoux arrives.
- This is the first time I have ever used Skriin and I literally created him nine goddamn years ago lmao