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The Emperor's Jubilee II

It felt like stepping through the gate from the Nexus to Coruscant. Like nothing had happened, and yet everything had changed somehow. Back then, Samus had noticed that the air was different. Now she wondered if it was even air surrounding her. The ground was certainly nothing natural. White and clean, like the Nexus, but not so featureless. It took a few moments to take it all in.

Samus looked at her own hand. No difference. Then she compared it to the scenery. Was it just her, or was it somehow more … pixelated? She tilted her head.

Nanoha was the first to break the weird silence. “So, it looks like we’ll all be working together.” She smiled. “I’m glad.”

Samus felt a twitch in her eyebrow. She hoped the young woman wasn’t pursuing some feel-good adventure. Honestly, she didn’t know what to make of being asked to work as a group in the first place. It was the first time in a … long time. For now, she decided, it was probably for the best to stick it out. If things got difficult later, she could always split off to take care of things on her own.

“Let’s just get on with things,” said the hunter. She stepped towards the one obvious entrance of the room they were in.

Nanoha shrugged at Proto Man, who scratched his chin awkwardly. “I wouldn’t worry,” said the aerial mage. “If this problem is so big, I’m sure it’ll find us.”

Samus turned, and her raised eyebrow was fully visible through her visor. “Well let’s find it before it finds us.”
[Image: 0bwAI3j.jpg]

With that said, Samus Aran turned her attention away from the other two members of her group and to the white infinity that surrounded them. Her gun arm was above her heart, poised to cut down the first hostile element that revealed itself. He could only imagine that she wore the same expression behind that green visor now, in the face of potential death, as she had worn while somewhat casually walking the streets of Coruscant’s most patrolled tier. Even with the metal suit, Proto Man would have been able to recognize the woman based on her posture and movements.

A few yards away, Nanoha had crouched down to examine the ground. The white surface was almost identical to that of the Nexus, but it had a grainy texture and additional imperfections that the Fountain’s surroundings had lacked. Nanoha turned to face her staff and said something beneath her breath that the robot didn’t catch as he turned around and glanced behind them.

How are we supposed to get out of here, anyway? Despite the fact that they had entered devices to be uploaded to this reality, nothing existed behind them save more grainy whiteness. Did the machine on the other end control their escape? A frown spread across the preteen’s chin. Does that mean we’re stuck here until we solve this?

Rising to his feet, Proto Man materialized his gun-arm and shield. To his left, Samus had already wandered off, and after a quick nudge to Nanoha’s shoulder, the robot jogged after the armored woman. He’d nearly caught up to her when a black column erupted up through the floor in front of her—throwing the two of them onto their backs. Despite the shock, Samus was up to her feet in the span of a few moments and sweeping the area again with her arm cannon. When she was satisfied that nothing was preparing to lunge at them, she eased her rigid posture and turned her eyes to the black pillar jutting up from the ground.

Now back on his feet, Proto Man joined her side as Nanoha closed the distance and kept her eyes glued to the opposing direction. “Still nothing,” the woman remarked as she visibly tightened her grip on her staff.

“What do you think this even is?” The android asked as he stepped forward and pressed his palm against the black column. It felt much the same as the ground did—cold and smooth.

Samus shrugged her rounded shoulders. “I’m not su—”

Whatever statement she was about to make was cut off by the earthquake that struck from nowhere. Just as they had less than two minutes prior, the pair was jostled and lost their equilibrium. To make matters worse, the moment he hit the ground with a dull thud, Proto Man something crack apart as the earth continued to spasm. Looking to his left, he realized that the ground was fissuring, and the expanding crack was heading their way.

Before either of them needed to react, a flustered Nanoha dropped down between them, hooked their shoulders, and dragged them up and away from whatever awaits someone beneath the surface of the Dataverse. Unfortunately for the woman, she only managed to cart them a few feet to safety before she had to drop them down or risk too heavy a strain on whatever power source lay behind her techniques.

“What is going on?” Nanoha asked, her tone having lost most of its usual cheer. As he looked at her, Proto Man no longer doubted that she was very accomplished in her home world.

“I don’t know,” Samus shot back as the shaking started to die down. Instead of tremors, however, they watched as more black pillars exploded up through the ground at various points in the area. Between the three of them, with their various computers and intelligences and high-tech equipment, they were able to rapidly discern that the pillars were forming an enormous circle around them.

As Proto Man rose to his feet, he watched with a slight degree of boy-like awe as an assortment of giant, yellow pixilated triangles popped into existence inside the circle formed by the pillars. A beat later, dozens of robots started to drop in from nowhere, their stout bodies comprised of blocks of bright colors. They were scattered across the place, but none of them seemed to be active.

Before anyone in the trio could ask the obvious question, a voice boomed in from above. “Did you really think we weren’t expecting intruders? We have enough contingencies to make your heads spin…enjoy!”

And just like that, the blocky robots started moving around and the sky became filled with laser bursts.
[Image: proto.jpg][Image: DAHost.png]
Dante's Abyss 2015

Everything about this ‘verse felt strange and fuzzy, like walking through a half-completed field barrier. Nanoha, had already confirmed that despite this being some virtual digital interface, it was still a proper place with full adherence to physical laws. It was, to put it into one word, bizarre. The very first thing she’d done upon entering the Dataverse was to reinstate her Barrier Jacket, after having disabled it before the transfer, and to setup Raising Heart’s Auto-Guard functions.

It had been a wise decision, but preparation was Nanoha’s forte. The instant the robots that materialized around them opened fire, all three Primes sprung into action. A brilliant magenta rune circle flared into life around Nanoha’s feet, as the Auto-Guard system was engaged before she even needed to consider casting one herself.


Raising Heart threw up the defensive spell but a moment before the first volley of lasers pattered into the barrier, harmlessly absorbed into the sphere’s energy. Nanoha twirled her Device in one hand and flinging the other in a wide arc- index finger pointed straight ahead- summoning up her inner mana stores and congealing it rapidly at the tip of her finger. There was a series of flashes of light, the luminance shining like a thousand blooming Sakura, and dozen glowing orbs burst into motion one by one and launched themselves at the frontal cone of the robots.

“Shoot Barrett!”

Samus and Blues, both with their hand cannons already at the read, had already shot to pieces several of the robots before they even got a second volley off, sending smouldering fragments of alloys hurtling across the room. A handful of the first laser volley connected with their metal shells, but left little more than singes on the tough metal. Samus turned on the spot like a looming humanoid turret, firing off shots that accurately pierced right through her targets in flashes of white-hot light. Blues, clearly concerned about a second wave, had generated his trademark shield across his free arm, and had resumed taking shots at the remaining robots.

Nanoha paused, the air around her still blazing with energy, and assessed the situation within a second. There were more robots springing into existence around them, almost as rapidly as they were shooting them down. At this rate, they’d clean them up in no time, but whoever was sending the constructs against them had clearly been ready for that as well. Amongst the smaller beads of light from which the robots were bursting there were a dozen larger white silhouettes.

“Raising Heart, calibrate Protection for Wide Area mode. Samus, Blues, they’re bringing in some bigger ones!”

It is already done, master.

As her fellow Primes picked off the last of the latest wave of enemies, Nanoha let her Protection spell lapse out. The robots had, she noted, stopped spawning in even though the portals from which they were emerging still remained. Any moment now… Any moment…

“Ahaha! You thought that was the best I had to offer? None of you will leave this room alive!”

The portals exploded into light again, another huge wave of the robots bursting into the room. This time, as Nanoha had anticipated, the twelve larger forms solidified and came into view. They seemed like little more than large laser cannons, their weapons already hot and charging up. There was a brilliant flash at the muzzle of each one right as Nanoha and Raising Heart roared in unison.

“Wide Area Protection!”

The magenta spell circle below her feet exploded out, shining like a beacon even brighter than the white-lit room and the spherical barrier spell shimmered in around all three Primes, enveloping them in its slightly opaque protective seal. The cannon robots’ beam cannons struck the powerful barrier, the energy of the attacks spilling across its surface like liquid blue fire. The barrier held, and the beams flickered and died as the robots began to charge another volley.

They didn’t even have time to finish the charge sequence. Samus blasted four of them out of the air with precise rapid fire, her bolts hurtling past the impotent smaller robots. Blues threw his cannon arm back, a high pitched whine emanating from it, and ran past Nanoha towards the other heavy weapon robots with a shout in her direction.

“Gimme a boost, Nanoha!”

As he hurtled past her, Nanoha flicked her staff into the air and whirled in a circle. At the precise moment that Blue’s back was past Raising Heart, her spinning hands connected with the haft of the Device and thrust the haft into the back of the robotic youth. He shot into the air, his own legs buckling at the knees and propelling him forward in a powerful leap. He flew past the robots, their lasers missing him entirely thanks to his sudden burst of speed, and he ricocheted off the black column behind them. Bringing his cannon up as he deftly landed behind the robots, Nanoha realised his trajectory had brought him to a spot where the larger robots were all lined up. As he landed Blues unleashed a massive orb of light from the muzzle that rippled with concentrated energy. In a flash, it impacted with the nearest of the cannon robots and exploded in a wave of destruction that pierced through all eight of the remaining robots, annihilating every last one.

Nanoha fired off more volleys of Shoot Barrett bolts, clearing the air of the remaining smaller robots. She looked across at Samus, who was similarly finishing off the last of the wave on her side of the room. They’d done well, functioning as a cohesive group within seconds of being ambushed. Nanoha felt a tiny twinge of pride, thinking of her trainees back on Mid-Childa learning the same sort of skills.

Blue’s cry broke her momentary reminiscence, pointing into the air above her. “Above you, Nanoha, there’s a big one!”

Nanoha leapt back, another Protection igniting around her, and arched her head back to look straight above her. Floating in the air near the ceiling of the chamber was a single massive robot; its entire myriad of weapons was trained directly at her.

“I got this!” Samus’ shout erupted from Nanoha’s left. The bounty hunter bent at the knees, her hand clenched against the floor as her own cannon arm began to pulse with energy. With a powerful jump into the air, Samus neatly landed on the top of the large sphere that was the robot’s main body. She brought the cannon down into direct contact with its metal shell and opened fire. The blast ripped through the robot, rupturing every internal system and causing it to explode in a deafening burst of fire and energy.

Samus hurtled back, as the robot she held onto shattered. The shards of metal bounced harmlessly off her slightly-blackened armour, but the force of the blast looked set to fling her over the surrounding wall of black columns. Nanoha had sprung into action the moment the mighty cannon had been fired, and flew up with all her available mana charged into her Axel Fin spell.

There were momentary spikes of pain across her right arm as chunks of the smouldering metal impacted with her few spots of uncovered skin. Her barrier jacket had absorbed the concussive force of the blast easily, but a few physical projectiles had made it through. Drops of blood pattered like rain onto the floor below, but the wounds were little more than superficial.

Right before Samus was set to hurtle out of view, Nanoha reached out and grabbed one of the Prime’s armoured feet and pulled back hard. With the sudden change in direction, she switched off her flight spell for half a second to give them the downward force needed to pull Samus back down. Engaging the spell again, their rough landing was softened greatly, allowing both to keep their footing as they landed.

Blues ran up as they shook themselves off, scattering ash and shards of computer components around their feet. He grinned a bit, “Looks like that was the last of them.”
[Image: nanoha_zps8059419b.jpg]

Seeing the robot above Nanoha, Samus wasn’t entirely sure why she’d reacted the way she did. That was instinct for you; you didn’t think, you just acted. But it had all worked out fine. It had been weeks since Samus had blown anything up; it felt good, like slipping into comfortable clothes. Maybe too comfortable.

“There’s going to be more. We should find an exit.”

Nobody disagreed, but she saw the dilemma as soon as she voiced it. Where was the exit in this place? And where would bring them closer to their attacker? She opened a new voice message directed at Dredd.

“We’ve encountered robot resistance. No problems yet. We’re heading in further now. Samus out.”

“Have you got a plan?” questioned Nanoha, brow raised a little.

“Nope.” Samus clicked her arm cannon forward, allowing a small pillar of steam to escape with a hiss as it did so. “But it stands to reason we can summon vehicles in the Dataverse, just like the Omniverse. So let’s do it.”

Proto Man spoke in his near-monotone. “Somehow I don’t think they’re going to give us time.” Samus noted a singe on his outer armor. The automaton was putting on a brave face, but his armor was not so resilient as the bounty hunter’s. She hadn’t gotten out of that firefight entirely unscathed either.

“You’re right,” said the hunter, “So here’s what we do. I’ll summon these bikes. Meanwhile, you two defend me. I’ll have to remain immobile while I’m summoning, so you’re going to need to protect me. Should be no problem with that staff of yours, right?”

No problem, asserted Raising Heart.

“Count on us,” concurred Nanoha with a grin.

“Heads up,” said Proto Man. The sky was darkening, the whiteness opening into another portal.

Samus began to summon. Right now she had no choice but to put her trust in the others. The worst that could happen was that she’d die and come back to life at the Nexus. No, that was wrong. The worst that could happen was that they failed. Others could die. Others who weren’t immortal. Right now, she could stand in their way. But how long would that last?
[Image: 0bwAI3j.jpg]

Rapid heartbeats filled Nanoha's ears for the first few moments after they had finished dispatching the last of the ambushing robots; she could feel her pulse racing with the thrill of a fight already invading her system. Training and teaching others was that which she loved but ultimately her greatest skill and calling was for combat and it was at moments like these where her body felt so alive that were the strongest reminders.

However, it was not the most comfortable of situations to be in; ambushed, regardless of how much she expected that eventuality, and teamed up with two people she barely knew and had never seen fight. They had worked together well, but in such a dire and sudden situation instinct and discipline would take over. Only time could tell if more measured combat encounters would lead to teamwork as cohesive as this had been.

While she heard Samus managing to contact Dredd, Nanoha quickly assessed her assets. Linker Core was fine- the exertions from the battle were not so great as to affect her mana reserves much- and Raising Heart's systems were functioning well within operating parameters. Her barrier jacket was undamaged, but the final explosion had caused some superficial lacerations.

"Raising Heart, Auto-Guard: Protection." Nanoha murmured, infusing her Device with another charge of the quick-fire defensive spell. It was obvious they were going to need it again soon.

Auto-Guard system loaded. Systems functioning nominally. Standby, Ready.

Ultimately, the plan Samus suggested was sound. The only real choice they had, even. As she watched the portal above begin to reopen, she turned back toward Samus, "Summon them one at a time. If we're going to get overwhelmed the two of you can take one and I'll get my self out of here. I'd rather we get one whole bike than half of three."

Samus, clearly already concentrating on drawing out her Omnilium, nodded in agreement. It was a good idea to use the unique assets their team had.

Nanoha turned back to the android next to her as the first wave began to erupt through the portal. "Blues, you take front line, I'll give you fire support. Don't go too far, so I can get a barrier up if those nastier ones get out of hand."

"Sounds good to me!" Was his quick reply, before the deafening hum of the incoming foes drowned out his soft-spoken voice.
[Image: nanoha_zps8059419b.jpg]

He was the point man now, and given his past experience, he was actually more comfortable here than anywhere else. As Samus began the cumbersome process of summoning the vehicles, Proto Man checked the condition of his shield. The usually glossy white surface was marred by a few scorch marks, but it seemed like the structural integrity of the material had yet to be compromised. That was a nice sign, since he figured it would only get worse from here.

The next wave of robots weren’t as simple as the first one. Gone were the static, rigid machines that seemed to exist solely to wobble around and fire lasers. The adversaries marching across the makeshift arena were comparable to Robot Masters, with all the look and appearance of a person.

With a smile, Proto Man rushed forward as Nanoha and Raising Heart released a barrage of orbs above his head. The attack scattered a few of his targets, leaving the preteen with an opening to strike the first blow.

Kicking off the ground, his leap augmented by boosters built into his large boots, the Robot Master charged the Proto Buster and released the oversized burst at the nearest machine. While it looked stronger and more capable than the members of the first few waves, the humanoid machine’s alloy erupted all the same, as the plasma punched through its chest and exploded against the floor behind him. The kickback was enough to jostle the android midair, but it was nothing he hadn’t already calculated into his trajectory.

As he landed with a roll behind the first cluster of foes, Proto Man instinctively dropped to a knee and planted his shield into the white ground. A string of concentrated energy blasts slammed against his guard, jostling his small frame. When the volley abated, he put his gaze through the view slot and took a quick succession of shots. On the other side, a pair of well-placed bursts from Nanoha tore through the other side of the robot line, reducing all of them to twitching piles of twisted, scorched steel.


Nanoha’s voice prompted the android to pivot his shield just in time to intercept the metal heel veering down at his skull. While the impact splintered the white surface, the block gave Proto Man the window he needed to blow apart the machine’s other knee.

Even as he rose to his feet, a look around revealed that more mechanical foes were rushing at their group from three of the four cardinal directions. With a scowl, Proto Man looked at the time and realized that barely a minute had passed since Samus had started the summoning process. This is going to be terrible.

Clenching his hands around the shield’s grip, Proto Man held out his arm cannon and activated the close quarters combat program. With a melodic hum, a two-foot sword of condensed plasma shot to life from the barrel of the Proto Buster. If he were alone in this situation, he would have met the charge of the enemy forces, but he knew he couldn’t risk getting too far away from Samus and Nanoha without compromising their safety or his. So Proto Man puffed out his small chest, kept his shield arm taut against his frame, and braced himself for the wave of approaching machines. A few yards behind him, Nanoha was at the ready, with Raising Heart already twirling above her head.

“Shoot Barrett!”

The android dropped down as the artillery strike screamed by over his head and slammed into the line of robots. Once the area above him was free of magical projectiles, Proto Man shoved off the ground and ran the short distance to meet the enemy. His sword lead the way—cleaving through the abdomen of the nearest machine as he twisted his upper body to bring his shield to bear against an oncoming fist.

Still bracing his shield to his left, Proto Man wrenched his sword from his initial targets gut and swung it hard to his right to cleave away the weapon-wielding arms of another foe. A beat later, a burst of energy slammed into his chest, staggering the red robot long enough for a quartet or enemy combatants to close in around him and lay into him with their fists and feet.

Proto Man managed to block or evade the first few strikes, but eventually the numbers game caught up to him and he found himself huddled on his knees and being bludgeoned into the ground by more limbs than he could count. After a few seconds, he figured it was the end, but then a pink flash tore through the crowded mob above him, taking advantaged of how clustered they’d become to blast apart a plethora of limbs and heads. More importantly than that, it caused the herd of machines to pause in their onslaught.

The pause and small amount of breathing room was all Proto Man needed to swing the energy sword around his small body in a complete circle. By the time he’d righted himself at the end of the swipe, the machines were already on their backs—their bodies all separated from their legs above their knees.

Rising up from his knees, Proto Man picked up his shield and turned to look over at his allies. From the look of it, Samus still had some time to go before she could finish summoning an escape. The sphere of omnilium was still slowly growing in front of the armored woman. The glance was all he could muster before there were lasers heading his way. Planting his shield in the ground, he huddled behind it as it soaked up another barrage. Unfortunately for the preteen android, the armor had been taxed to its limit already, and with a horrifying metal screech, a bolt got through the marred, fissured surface and punched through Proto Man’s shoulder.

With a grunt, the red robot squeezed his hand around the grip, more so to keep himself upright than to help with pain. Nanoha’s projectiles were already zipping through the sky, but it was clear from the pattern and the diminishing intensity of the spheres that the mage was also nearing the point where she would be unable to continue. Leaning onto his compromised shield, Proto Man started to fire away into the crowd of approaching machines. Despite a decreased lack of sensation in his shield arm, he still maintained the advantage of sheer firepower, although the horde of approaching robots seemed indifferent as members of their cohort collapsed and fell beneath their metal soles.

I need to upgrade this with some auto-fire… While each of his blasts took down one of the machines, his rate of fire was clearly doing very little to thin the crowd. Just keep at it, Samus still needs more time. The timer on his HUD indicated that they closing in on four minutes. A glimpse over his shoulder showed the armored woman still laboriously working on the same large orb of omnilium. What’s taking her so long, she ought to have at least one of those bikes by now.

Still leaning against his shield, Proto Man switched to firing charged bursts at the crowd. The delay between blasts gave them more time to close in on him, but each explosive attack cleared out a small section of the line and scattered those nearby. By the time they got within the radius of close quarters, they more akin to a mob than a horde. Rather than stand his ground and fight, the red robot rose to his feet and hurtled his shield at the center of the group. A few of the machines were knocked down by the impromptu projectile, which flashed all-white before fizzling into nonexistence.

Now that they saw their adversary without protection, the robots paused in their march and pointed their weapons at him. With a grimace, Proto Man retreated back to Nanoha, who was already channeling a different spell. As the preteen android stumbled over to her side, the mage’s spell flared to life, the circle beneath her glowing strong like a beacon in the dark.

“Wide Area Protection!”

The magenta sphere coalesced just as the volley of laser blasts would have torn into the trio. Nanoha maintained the spell for just a moment longer, allowing Proto Man to charge up another blast for when the barrier collapsed. As the spell faded, the red robot fired, destroying one of the machines and crippling a few huddled too close to the blast radius. Wasting little time, Proto Man leapt on the chest of a nearby foe and smashed its skull with the barrel of his gun arm. He then rode the broken machine to the ground as laser bolts pierced through the air where he’d been a moment prior.

Once back on the ground, Proto Man fired a string of shots into what remained of the crowd. Nanoha, undoubtedly trying to preserve her energy in the event that she was needed for more shields, took only a few choice shots that were able to down multiple foes.

Despite wounds and fatigue, the pair managed to clear out the mob of machines. As he stood up from the chest of the last one, the preteen android looked down at his form and noticed that he must have taken a few more blasts during that last skirmish. In a few places, the light armor of his body suit had been compromised and the organic layer below had been damaged. A quick hand to the top of his head revealed that his helmet was fractured as well. I just repaired all this stuff. If he had to continue in this combat role, Proto Man knew he’d have to do something about his shell. Either that or he’d need to carry around a few of those E tanks like his brother had done.

Nanoha’s voice broke the android away from his thoughts. “Looks like we have more…”

With a frown, Proto Man turned to see that there were more visitors dropping out of the air to greet them. The last wave had appeared to be an attempt to adjust and improve the spawned robots’ odds, and the same could be said of what was dropping down from the other side of the makeshift arena.

“Are those tanks?” The Robot Master asked rhetorically as the first of the armored vehicles landed, roared to life, and started in their direction. From an odds standpoint, it was only natural to go with something that had more survivability and firepower, so from a computer perspective, Proto Man had to respect whatever algorithm was being employed to create their opponents.

But from the perspective of someone trying not to get blown to pieces, the preteen hated their unseen adversary on numerous levels. “We can’t fight them like this…” he muttered as he turned to Samus.

The armored woman shuddered and stumbled backwards as the hardening sphere of omnilium faded to reveal a light utility vehicle. Although it lacked armor and weapons, there was room enough for all of them. “I figured this would be more efficient than three motorbikes.”

Proto Man opened his mouth to say something, but he was cut short when a shell erupted just a few yards in front of their position, tearing apart the white ground and spraying them with chunks of whatever material made up the floor.

“You two in back, I’ll drive,” Samus shouted as she jumped into the driver’s seat and turned on the ignition. “Blues, you need to keep some fire on them to deter a chase... Nanoha, do you have enough in you to throw up some shields incase things get hairy?”

Yes, Raising Heart responded as its master hopped into the back seat of the open-air vehicle. The woman reached a hand down and helped Blues get into position next to her as Samus hit the gas.
[Image: proto.jpg][Image: DAHost.png]
Dante's Abyss 2015

Samus’s boot hit the pedal and the jet engines of the vehicle shot to life, lifting it forward and off the ground. It had taken about eight minutes to summon the vehicle, during which time the hunter’s mind had been entirely focused on the summoning itself. She hadn’t thought about where they were going.

“Any ideas!?” she shouted as she swerved the vehicle to avoid incoming fire.

Nobody had much to say. Where to even begin? It was obvious that whoever they were facing had already taken control of a significant portion of the Dataverse. In the end, it was Raising Heart who spoke first.

I suggest taking the Information Highway to the Dataverse Library. Nanoha and Proto Man looked at the sentient device, mouths open – evidently wondering why they didn’t think of it first. We will be safe there, and be able to plan our next course of action.

“And …” Samus couldn’t recall the device’s name, “Which way is the highway?”

Straight up.

Samus hit a button on the dashboard and the roof slid shut. In the same moment she pulled sharply back on the controls and spun upwards, leaving a volley of shots to sail past in the vehicle’s wake. It seemed as though the largest black ‘portal’ in the sky was actually a road of sorts; as they sped closer, she saw that there was movement within; more robots heading their way. They’d have to break past.

“There’s no weapons on this thing, so you might wanna help me out.” One hand still on the steering stick, Samus pointed her gun arm out of the window and began to charge a blast. Nanoha and Proto Man followed suit, as their car passed through the portal and onto the Information Highway.

Already, a swarm of robots were forming a blockade in front of them. Numerous other ‘vehicles’ (some of them seemed like denizens in their own right, others looked more like pixelated spaceships and one seemed to be a kind of cyber-snake) veered around the robots, honking and hollering as they did so. The robots paid no mind, instead releasing another volley of lasers and missiles towards Samus and company.

The hunter grit her teeth, releasing her charged shot into the fray and firing more beams off as she did so. Driving and shooting at the same time was always difficult. “Focus on the middle!” she yelled as the car did cartwheels around the laser fire. She realised, in one of those instinctive flashes of insight that happen when you’re completely in the moment, two things: that the missiles were homing, and that she wouldn’t be able to dodge them.

Luckily, before she could discover whether the vehicle was strong enough to withstand that many missiles, a magenta hue lit up the windshield as a bubble surrounded the car. A moment later, her entire vision was filled with explosions, but the car held. It seemed that Nanoha had casted one of her shield spells just in time. Samus would have to save her thanks for some time they weren’t careening towards a swarm of robots in a fragile cocoon of sheet metal. Meanwhile, her charged shot had impacted somewhere in the fray, and although it left a satisfying explosion in the place of robots, it wouldn’t be enough to get them through. “Robo-kid,” she said, no time to even be embarrassed at her poor memory for names, “Charge up a shot. We’re gonna release them at the same time.”

“Sure thing, Robo-lady,” Proto Man replied sardonically, understanding the plan. “You wanna aim towards the middle?”

“Right.” Samus jammed the steering stick to the right as the shield absorbed another hail of lasers. “Not yet!” They jerked violently to the left, scraping through another volley. “Wait for my go!” Her own charge shot was pulsing into life at the barrel of her arm cannon. First a small orb, then the size of the barrel, then spilling over until its light painted the hunter’s entire suit a white-blue hue. She aimed it at the centre of the melee.

“Ready …” She narrowed her eyes. Right now, she was in perfect zen. Every minute of her life that she’d spent firing that arm cannon – the sum of that experience was total mastery over her weapon. As the vehicle spun and shuddered, she waited for the right moment. She trusted her hand to know when it was time. They bobbed up and over a hail of laser rain. And then there was a chance. The rain stopped, and the path was clear. She let her left hand go loose on the steering stick as her right arm zeroed in on its target.


Aran and Blues fired in unison, into the centre of the formation. The two explosions met like star-crossed lovers, bouncing off one another in just the right way to create sparks. Shrapnel and robotic body parts lit up the highway like fireworks. Samus hit the pedal and flew through the storm, as the shield broke and the car shuddered like it was having an orgasm. For a moment everything was white, and then the light faded to reveal that they were still alive. Nobody said anything for a few seconds.

Raising Heart broke the silence once more. Take the next up.

Samus did, and soon they were flying down another highway. Behind the car, robots still pursued them, firing their lasers and missiles, but it was a lost cause and they knew it. The trio let smiles creep onto their respective faces. They knew when they’d won. It was a small victory in the grand scheme of their mission, but at least they were out of the fire.

It took around fifteen minutes before Raising Heart finally gave the words they’d all been waiting to hear. The library is ahead. A collective sigh unravelled itself from the party as the car pulled off the highway and into a large, white space with a single, gigantic feature; a building, looking almost like a large, square cathedral. It wasn’t what Samus had been expecting. “You sure this is the place?”

One hundred percent certain. This is the library. It is protected by a barrier once you are inside. I suggest we hurry.

None of them argued, not knowing when their pursuers would reappear. Right on cue, as they jumped out of the vehicle, the robots appeared from the entrance to the highway. They ran, throwing open the library’s large wooden door, and slammed it behind them. The action seemed odd to Samus, who didn’t see how it could stop missiles. Of course, that was thinking within the logic of the real world. My world, she corrected, reminding herself that there were no doubt other worlds out there with their own defiant laws of physics. Still, it didn’t stop her jumping when an explosion sounded from right outside the doorway. Yet, just as Raising Heart had said, the door held.

“Don’t worry,” came a gentle-sounding male voice. Samus turned to see a suited man smiling. “You’re quite safe within these walls. As long as you’re here to learn, hm?”
[Image: 0bwAI3j.jpg]

"Who might you be?" Samus inquired tersely, the adrenaline flowing through her from the rush of their flight only just now beginning to drain away.

The man smiled gently and said nothing for a moment, instead peering curiously at the trio of Primes. He was an older gentleman, just on the cusp of what could be considered elderly, with silver hair kept neatly trim and close to his scalp. He wore a simple, yet strangely perfect and elegant suit, that Nanoha thought would have been more at place in the past eras of parts of her original homeworld. His eyes were homely and kind, yet they expressed a focused energy that lanced right through her when they connected with her own, like he was constantly searching everything he looked upon for every minute detail.

"I am the Librarian of this place; the Databanks. This is the Dataverse's greatest, and only, library. I am curator and protector, helper and aide. You are all welcome here, provided you do not disturb the peace within."

His appraisal of them seemed to have ended, as he had stopped looking them over and instead was now looking steadily at Raising Heart as she rested easy in Nanoha's left hand. He stroked his chin slowly before speaking again, "I see there is one among you who is much like myself."

Perhaps. We are alike, yet different. You lack what I have, and I lack what you have.

The Librarian nodded sagely. "Indeed. I know of your kind; there are some texts here that speak of Intelligent Devices."

Nanoha looked sharply down at Raising Heart, but the Device did not reply. "Texts here that speak of Intelligent Devices?" She repeated, "But how? I have only been here a matter of days, and the Lost Logia that has created this pocket dimension has never been recorded before!"

Her only response was a simple shrug, before Samus interrupted her thoughts. "You can worry about that later, Nanoha, if these 'databanks' are the only collection of organised information in this Verse, then perhaps we might find something here."

Blues nodded in agreement, "Yeah, if anything it'd be good to recharge a bit before we go back out there. Who knows what else might be waiting now? Trying to find some more information while we are here would be handy."

Nanoha nodded, "You're both right; I had been thinking that. I'm sorry, it is just surprising to me to hear that there is information on Devices here."

Samus shrugged, "Hell, maybe he has information on things from where I come from too. This place is weird enough already; it wouldn't be that surprising."

Nanoha looked back at the Librarian, only to see that he was somehow standing on the other side of a doorway that had appeared in the middle of the courtyard they stood in. It was as if he had conjured it out of thin air before nonchalantly walking through. He beckoned them to follow and, with curious glances at each other, the three of them did so.

They entered into a large room filled with stacks upon stacks of bookshelves, each one lined with immaculate leather-bound books. There was a sort of complex looking coding system running along each shelf, though it wasn't anything like what Nanoha was used to at the Infinity Library back home. These books were all virutal; digitally created within this world of data, but she was certain that each one could be picked up and read like any other book.

Nanoha suddenly realised that Raising Heart was still active in Device mode and quickly had her friend revert to her standby form, the Barrier Jacket that clung to her her dispersing as well. She had been so focused prior to entering the Databanks that she hadn't even realised it yet. With the pressure of feeding mana to power her passive spells gone, Nanoha felt a clarity broaden across her mind. This place was incredible and vast, but they needed to be focused on finding anything that could prove useful on this mission before worrying about anything else.

The Librarian cleared his throat gentle, breaking the silence. "If you seek information then I am here to assist you, just as I assist all who come to this place seeking knowledge. You may, with my guidance, look through the books and other forms of physical data representation here, or you can browse through the library in a more digital form with myself as your aide. If you wish the latter, simply enter the door behind you and you will find yourself in a private room."

With that, he vanished, leaving a door set into the wall behind where he had stood waiting silently for them to open it.

Nanoha looked across at her companions, "I think we should probably split up, and follow a specific line of inquiry each. We need to find out more about who these... Terrorists are, what they are after, and where in the Dataverse, or elsewhere, they might be. I think I will look into what they are after, or whatever they are hoping to achieve, you two can sort out the other two between you. I assume the Librarian will be able to contact us if we find anything useful, so we can reconvene and share data. Sound like a plan?"

"Sure, that works." Said Samus with a slight shrug. Blues nodded slowly, probably already thinking about where to begin.

Nanoha did enjoy handling books, but something about them being digitally created copies felt odd to her. At any rate, a more widespread search would be the best option here. Nodding to the other two, she walked across to the door and opened it. Through the open doorway she could see a dim room with nothing but a simple desk and a computer terminal within. Every library has it quirks, she mused, and stepped through.
[Image: nanoha_zps8059419b.jpg]

He was alone now. Nanoha and Samus had wandered off to search the strange old mansion. With the two women gone, Proto man was by himself in the large foyer, with only the warm glow of incandescent lights that seemed so out of place yet so right for the structure. The artificial intelligence had vanished, or at least it had ceased to occupy a physical space. Given its task of overseeing the facility, the android figured that the intelligence was probably everywhere, even if it didn’t have an active interface platform in a given room.

Nanoha had mentioned that they should use the information here to learn about whoever was attempting to attack Coruscant through the Dataverse. Proto Man didn’t know the first place to look. He knew what a library was from memory, and he’d seen a few in major cities as well. Unfortunately, he’d never been inside one himself, and given that he was in a digital world that was inside a futuristic city which was part of an alien multiverse, he figure he’d be lost either way.

With a sigh, Proto man wandered off down a nearby hallway. In the span of a few minutes, he became terrible lost in what was becoming a vast sea of wooden bookcases, stands filled with binders full of periodicals, and newspapers on wooden rods.

“Where is everyone?” The boy muttered.

From behind him, the response came in the cool tone of the Librarian AI: “We’ve had low visitation today due to the incident. Many of our regulars left for the parade or due to the subsequent violence. Those that remain are either seeking asylum for the duration or our diehards.”

Proto Man turned to face the AI’s interface platform. “Must be lonely on days like this.”

A grin spread across the features of the faux old man. “I exist in a digital reality that contains all information that has ever been. Even if I could experience loneliness, I’d never truly be alone.”

“I’m sorry,” the android responded.


“If you can’t feel alone, then how could you ever expect to feel alive?”

The gentleman chuckled. “I’m not like you, DLN-Zero… I can write my own code, but unlike you, I am bound by the constraints of my original programming and functional directives. But you… you are something wholly unnatural, even in a place like Coruscant. Your code is… I have seen and read and documented many instance of sentient androids, but you are wholly unique. Whoever it was that wrote your base coding must have been a genius.”

A laugh escaped the robot boy. “He was a sociopath. I’m only this way because the other guy was a narcissist and rushed through some faulty power system.”

“Even so, that mutation in your code makes you one-of-a-kind,” the artificial intelligence remarked. “In many ways, you are more of a boy machine than a machine boy. It must be so strange for you.”


“Are you even aware that you have a shard of metal through your right lung?”

Proto Man looked down and did indeed realize that the jagged tip of a metal spike was protruding a few centimeters from the surface of his chest. “It’s nothing… I don’t have lungs. I have an interior oxygenator that keeps my organic layer from dying. Unless I experience a critical loss of system power, I’ll endure.” The android closed a finger around the shrapnel and tugged it out through his organic layer and the body suit. “I don’t experience pain like people.” With a ting, the ensanguined piece of metal hit the ground.

Once more, the Librarian AI let out a soft laugh. “When’s the last time you did anything for fun, Blues? You know, throw a ball or play a video game?”

The robot frowned as he tried to think back. He had certainly spent a great deal of the last few days walking around the brightly colored streets—did that count? Even before the Fountain, he had trouble recalling much beyond the daily scramble to survive in a hostile world bent on destroying him. Perhaps he’d had some fun in New York? Time Square had certainly been bright and colorful. “Oh, wait, I ate some ice cream at that parade.”

“What flavor? You have an actual tongue connected to unique subsystem that uses enough RAM to power an advanced flight simulator. Surely, you could tell me a little about a dessert you enjoyed less than an hour or so ago?”

“…It was white. There were some bubblegum balls where the eyes would be.”

With a smile, the artificial intelligence pointed to a door that Proto Man was certain had been a flat wall a moment earlier. The door swung inward to reveal a plain room with an old-fashioned computer terminal and a lamp with a drawstring and a green glass shade.

“What’s this?” The android asked as he eyed the tiny room.

“You’re in the Dataverse, where every bit of information exists in digital form. That may be your body, but when you went through that uplink, you were converted into binary. People come here to experience the literature, not just sift through books or scroll pages.”

“You want me to read a book for fun while the others are busy researching?”

The Librarian AI smiled. “I’ll research for you and email you the pertinent indexes when you return to the librarian here. Let the other two scowl over their terminals. Indulge that part of your programming that wants to experience what a child experiences. You want to learn more about the Copper Eye? Go talk to someone firsthand.” The gentleman pointed to the terminal, which powered up to a screen that read ‘Avast n’ So Forth!’ in old-fashioned script and coupled with a bunch of Jolly Rogers and wooden ships.

“The Copper Eye?” Proto Man asked as he was gently ushered through the door. Walking over to the desk, he frowned as he removed his helmet and set it down next to the screen. Adjusting his sunglasses, he placed a hand on the keyboard as the white walls of the room went dark.

“Have some fun,” the Librarian AI muttered as Proto Man passed out for a brief second.

When he came to, the android was standing on a beach, with the vast ocean at his back and a tropical island sprawled out in front of him. Above his head, the skies were crystal blue where they weren’t otherwise covered by fluffy white clouds. A look down revealed that the android was dressed in period clothes to match the colonial, pirate theme of the book. Fortunately for his sake, he retained his visor, which was a thin pair of sunglasses. “Where?”

“You’re at Isla Paradiso!” Turning around, Proto Man found himself staring at a young boy in similar clothing. The boy sauntered over to him and extended a hand. “Hi, I’m J’hath Upari.”

“I don’t believe that name fits the setting,” the android remarked as he shook hands with the boy, who was probably a year or two his senior.

A laugh escaped J’hath’s mouth as he pointed up the beach to a clearing in the forest. “I’m a user, just like you. Did the AI send you? I’m glad he found another kid, I was getting so bored here by myself. Do you like pirates? They’re my favorite! Follow me, I’ll show you my camp!” The boy, who had been talking a mile a minute, waited for no response before he started rushing up the beach.

With a shrug, Proto Man took one last look at the vast, impossible ocean and followed J’hath toward the interior of the island.
[Image: proto.jpg][Image: DAHost.png]
Dante's Abyss 2015

Samus sat down in a corner of the library and took her helmet off, letting loose a drawn-out sigh as she shook her hair clear and lay down flat in her power armor. To see her exhaustion, you’d have thought she’d been running. She stared up at the ceiling of the library for some time, transfixed on the Victorian patterns. Then she sat up.

This was no time to be resting. She knew that. Why was she so tired? Her legs felt numb, her head foggy. Her heart was beating much faster than it usually did. She thought back on the events of the day. The girl and her artificial intelligence. The young robotic boy. The librarian. They were hitting her, like physical blows. Something rung in her head. She was blotting it out. She knew that. She squeezed her eyes shut.

It was like a joke, really. Somebody’s bad joke, the punchline to a long, agonising setup. Where had it started? So long ago, on the colony planet K-2L. It’s where she’d lived out the last moments of her life as a pure human, an innocent child. Before the pirates had stolen her life from her. Many times she’d wondered why she was the only survivor of that massacre. To watch as her own mother burned before her eyes and to be asked to continue on with that image burned into her mind forever more. But that wasn’t the punchline. Far from it.

She’d had another family. Her adoptive family, the Chozo. They’d raised her, given her their own blood. Trained her to be the world’s ultimate warrior. Given her a purpose. And then they’d vanished, too, leaving only their reminders everywhere she went. But that wasn’t the punchline either.

She’d joined the Galactic Federation, made friends. You might even call them her third family. Kreatz, Mauk. Adam. Adam was the punchline. Because the moment she’d met him, he’d been different from everyone she’d ever met. She was a young, rebellious cadet, and he was a staunch, by-the-book commander. But he had understood her, and all the others. There was more to him. He had known when to break the rules, and when to stick by them. Even when it meant death. She’d watched him do it. Watched him go willingly. The worst part was that she couldn’t hate him for it. Because he’d done the right thing, and that was why … that was what made him Adam. So she just endured. She was good at that. She was used to it.

And then, so many years later, they’d been reunited. As though he was her reward for staying strong for so long. Dead, but alive. Just a voice, just a mind, but it was him. She’d allowed herself just a glimmer of hope. For just one day. Despite everything that happened on that day, she’d survived, and for the first time in years she’d felt truly happy. Not like she’d just prevented a disaster – although she had – but as though she’d come out properly victorious! And she’d gone to bed with a smile, looking forward to taking on the Galactic Federation and everything they threw at her.

And then the next day it was gone. Gone with everything else. Ba-dum-psh.

She was here now. And she could summon him, summon him too to this joke of a world. And she never would. And that was the kicker. It was the question that had no answer, the conundrum that had no solution. It dug at her mind, the cruel joke, and it looked set to stay that way forever.

“Librarian.” she spoke.

The man shimmered into light. “Yes?”

“I’ve spent the last week looking for an answer to a question. Is there any way out of the Omniverse? Has anyone ever escaped?” She was quiet. “Do you know the answer?”

“Not a single Prime,” he responded.

“That’s what the Dataverse said. But,” and her voice wavered. “You know better than anyone else, right? I mean, this library holds all the known information about the Omniverse.”

“As much as I can gather, yes. In my estimate, it is the best single collection of information in the Omniverse.”

“So tell me. Do you think there is a way out?”

The librarian was quiet for a moment. “I cannot speak of opinion, only fact. No Primes have ever left the Omniverse. That is not to say that it is impossible, but the only way would be through Omni. However, none of the Primes who have met Omni have ever left the Omniverse.”

“That’s what I thought. Thanks, librarian.”

The man bowed, and disappeared.

Samus looked at her hands. Her suit flickered in and out of sight. Her shoulders shook. The tiredness she’d felt, it wasn’t tiredness. It was multiplied a hundredfold now, and all she could feel was the electricity, the anger of the injustice. “I can’t …” Her eyes fogged. “I can’t …” Her voice wavered and broke. “I can’t, I can’t, I CAN’T!”

And the indecision raged inside of her, set to stay forever. She knew the feeling now. It’d been with her, growing since she’d arrived in the Omniverse. She couldn’t bear it. She had the power to stop it.

It was time to use it.
[Image: 0bwAI3j.jpg]

Samus gathered the Omnilium into her hands and thought of him. His voice. His words. She focused on them, blotting out the voices of protest in her mind. Yes, it was selfish. There was no denying that. Several times she almost stopped, faltering. But she knew it would never end. She had to do this.

The ringing stopped. She was standing in the room, alone. Was it impossible after all?

Of course. It had to be. There was no way she’d be allowed this. Her whole life had proved that fact. The others were a reminder of what she couldn’t have. Nanoha, with her artificial companion. Even the robot child and the librarian. They all served as bitter reminders.

Back then, in that last day before arriving at the Omniverse, she hadn’t known the computed voice was truly Adam, but it had felt the same. Her annoyance at following his orders, but the knowledge somewhere at the back of her mind that he was right. She’d become more like the man since his death. She was no longer the brash, empassioned child she once was. It was as though he, like the suit, had become a part of her. Perhaps that was how it would be. Perhaps she had to be alone. She accepted it.

And that’s when the voice spoke: “Samus.”

She looked at her helmet, breath caught in her throat. “A … Adam?”

“This isn’t the ship.”

Despite her prior reluctance, Samus felt a smile wash over her face like the heat from sinking into a bath. “No, it’s not, Adam. I’m sorry.”

“Is something wrong, Samus? I think that’s the first time I’ve heard you apologise.”

The hunter searched for the words. “It’s a long story, Adam. Perhaps it’s best you see for yourself. You wouldn’t believe me otherwise.”

“Well, it appears that we’re in a library of some sort.”

Samus sighed. “Connect to the database. There should be a wireless connection.”

A minute passed. Then Adam spoke up again. “Just how long have you been in this Omniverse?”

“It’s hard to say. Time is different here. No more than a few weeks.”

“And you took this long to summon me?”

Samus’s mouth fell open. For a moment, she felt awash with emotion, then her words flowed seemingly of their own accord. “I was doing fine without you. I just thought you might be of some help in this library, being an Artificial Intelligence and all.”

A digitized sigh echoed from the speaker of Samus’s helmet. “I could have helped you scour the Dataverse for information long before you summoned me here. Why didn’t you?” As the hunter opened her mouth to angrily respond, he cut her off. “Nevermind. I’m here now. What’s the mission?”

“The Dataverse is under attack by some sort of terrorist group calling themselves the Copper Eye. We’re not sure what they’re planning, but the government of Coruscant seems worried.”

“Yes …” came the distracted voice of the disembodied commander. “There’s bits and pieces of information about them floating around the Dataverse.” His tone changed. “Samus, do you think you should be working for this … Empire?”

“It’s fine for now. I don’t intend to get wrapped up in their war.”

“Yeees …” The AI didn’t sound convinced. “You were right to summon me. These Copper Eye haven’t done anything this big up until now, but there’s good reason to believe they’re very dangerous.”

“Besides the fact that they attacked us on the way here?”

“What with?”


A quiet moment. “That’s strange. In the past, they’ve never used robots.”

“Use what you have.” Samus shrugged.

“Yes … But it begs the question of how they got the robots. Librarian, is there anywhere in the Dataverse they could have mass-produced robots?”

“Innumerable places.” The librarian was standing in the room once again. “Primes don’t need a factory to build machines under their control. But to summon so many would take a vast quantity of Omnilium, so it is likely that they are being manufactured from parts rather than being summoned from scratch, so to speak.”

Samus groaned. “That doesn’t narrow it down much.”

“So let’s look elsewhere,” said Adam. “If the Empire government is worried, that means they’re in control of something to do with the Empire. Something owned by them, I’d guess. That narrows it down a lot.”

“I don’t need to know the details.” Samus stood up, examined her arm cannon. “Just find out where they’re operating from, I’ll do the rest.”

“That’s something else, Samus,” said Adam. “Your suit isn’t running at full strength.”

“I told you, let me worry about that. You focus on finding out where they are.”

“I can do that at the same time, Samus. I am an AI.” The hunter could almost see his calm, patient stare. It always felt somehow even more patronising by Adam’s determination not to be. “Have you thought about summoning some type of shield?”

“Unnecessary. My suit is tougher than most Primes, and I never needed a shield before”

“Before, you never had the option of choosing your own upgrades. And there are things in the Omniverse far stronger than anything you faced in our own universe,” he added.

He was right, as always. The hunter threw her hands up. “Fine. I’ll think about it.” She hadn’t been lying before though. She had her own ideas. Now’s probably a good time to use them, she thought. She gazed down her nose pensively. One of them might even satisfy Adam and his need for defense. She called an orb of Omnilium to the palm of her hand.

“Summoning something, Samus?”

“Yeah. Any objections, commander?” She couldn’t help but sneer.

A grunt akin to a laugh. “I’ll keep searching.”
[Image: 0bwAI3j.jpg]

For close to ten minutes, Proto Man struggled to keep up with J’hath, who seemed to know the jungle as if it were the back of his hand. The wiry youth knew just where to duck under a low-hanging branch and where to leap over detritus or ditches. At the end of their scamper, J’hath and Proto Man emerged into a tiny clearing. At the center, someone—undoubtedly the spritely youth—hand constructed a tent in the shadow of a massive, tropical tree.

“Nice tent…” Proto Man muttered as the grining kid slipped through the flap and began to brush away the dirt. After an inch or so, his efforts revealed a big, red button, wholly out of place in the colonial setting. “What’s that?”

“The Librarian AI gave me narrator rights. I think he doesn’t want me to get too bored or something. I’m not sure why, but I’m not about to complain. Creative Mode is just too cool.” J’hath made a fist and punched the button, which made a very distinct metal click as it locked into place.

Behind Proto Man, the tall tree shuddered, releasing a small cloud of leaves down onto the pair. As the leaves fluttered down around them, a wooden rope ladder unfurled from somewhere above the canopy.

“Just up the ladder.” Without waiting, J’hath hopped onto the swaying ladder. A beat later and he was already out of sight. With a grin, Proto Man hurried up after him. When the android crested above the bottom of the canopy, he found himself inside the entrance of a tree house in a wooden room.


“Through the door in front of you, Blues.”

Following the instructions, Proto Man pulled himself up into the perfectly concealed chamber and pass through the door across from the exit/entrance hatch. On the other side of the nondescript wood plank door was a somewhat lavish lounge that contained a bunch of rather non-period furniture.

“Did you hack this stuff in here?” Proto Man asked as he sat down on his leather sofa. His new acquaintance dropped into a reclining chair a few feet away.

“Creative Mode,” the boy replied with a grin. “I figure the AI’s probably trying to keep me occupied while the others are busy.”

“The Copper Eye?” Proto Man asked, prompting a nod from the other youth. “So you’re a terrorist as well?”

J’hath let out a soft laugh as he reached into a bucket for a glass bottle. He took one for himself and threw another at Proto Man. “It’s just some boiled sea water. I didn’t want to stretch the parameters too much.”

The android, despite knowing he didn’t need the sustenance, popped the cork and took a long sip. He wasn’t certain how water was supposed to taste, but the liquid in the bottle had zero taste. “You didn’t answer my question.”

“We’re not terrorists… do I look like a terrorist?” Proto Man shook his head. “We’re an activist organization that’s well-aware of the injustice executed by the state. I know you’re new to the Omniverse, but I’ve been here for about two years now. Coruscant is a bunch of glitz and glamour that serves as a pretty façade over a rotten core.”

“Are you from the fountain?”

J’hath shook his head. “No, my teacher brought me here. He arrived here through the Nexus. He’s been here for almost four or fives years, and he’s been struggling to expose the injustices committed by the Empire.

Proto Man frowned as he took another gulp of the fluid. “Is this related to all the soldiers everywhere?”

“Yes. And at the rotten core is that Judge. His title is a lie…he’s little more than a state-sponsored executioner. He’s deluded himself into believing that he is maintaining the peace when really he’s just a glorified murderer for a fascist regime.”

The robot scowled. “Hasn’t your group killed people? What makes you any different?”

“Because we have the people’s interests at heart! We want to free them, not make them slaves who have to live in terror.”

“So you’re taking over the Dataverse and creating an army of robots? Where is the people’s interest when you send that army rampaging through the streets of Coruscant?”

“You’re new here…you haven’t seen the ghettos below that grand, picturesque façade. There are seven levels, yet the Empire stops carring after three. By the time you hit six, the people are more tribal than civilized. There are just a bunch of roaming gangs of thugs preying on people too poor to escape or forced down there by the Imperial soldiers that police access to the top tier.

Proto Man frowned as he mulled over the boy’s remark. His research had revealed that the lower tiers were increasingly poor, but who was to say it was deliberate? It couldn’t be easy to manage seven tiers, each the size of a city in their own right, along with waging a war with a foreign power on a few fronts.

“I can tell from your expression that you don’t believe me. Trust me, you can spend enough time in Coruscant, and you’ll learn soon enough that I’m telling the bonafide truth.

The android shrugged his shoulders. He didn’t know who to believe. Sure, he’d seen the excessive police presence and surveillance throughout the city, but his only experience with the Copper Eye had been a herd of robots trying to blow him to little bits.

“So you want to do something fun?” J’hath asked. “I don’t think the Librarian wanted us to wax philosophical the entire time.”

“Yes, definitely.” Proto Man replied as he sat down the nearly full container on the table. “What’s there to do around here?”

“Story mode.”

“Story mode?” The android asked, furrowing his brow as he smoothed out the fabric of his clothes. He hadn’t worn clothes since the end of his self-imposed exile from Monsteropolis, so it was strange to perss his chest and feel cloth rather than the skintight, armor-weave body suit.

“We’re in a book, remember? A few of the larger novels here have sandbox worlds where you can explore and do a bunch of other stuff—that’s where we are right now. Most novels and movies and whatnot just have Story Mode, which inserts you into the role of a character, any character. Most people are like, background figures, who just observe the action, and the people who love themselves a little too much tend to play major roles. It’s a lot of fun!”

“What do you portray?” Proto Man asked, intrigued by the concept of the interactive simulation.

“I like to play minor roles. You can swap parts, so I usually do that so I can always be in on the action. Especially for this story in particular.” With a grin, J’hath extended a hand toward Proto Man. “You already got the costume, so you ready for Scene 27?”

“What’s scene 27?”

“Just take my hand,” J’hath said with a grin as Proto Man reached out and clasped the other boy’s hand.

Everywhere flashed black for a moment, and when his senses returned, the android found himself below deck on a wooden ship. As he opened his mouth to speak, a cannonball tore through the hull a few inches away from him with enough force to throw him to his feet. Before he could properly react, he was being pulled to his feet by a grinning, grimy J’hath.

“Come on, man, we have a battle to fight! We can’t let those filthy privateers defeat the crew of the dreaded pirates of the Blight Runner!”
[Image: proto.jpg][Image: DAHost.png]
Dante's Abyss 2015

With a gasp, Proto Man emerged from the hatch and immediately scrambled for some cover as a volley of musket fire from the nearby enemy vessel peppered the deck of the Blight Runner. Two men let out yelps and fell clutching their chest and gut as blood started to soak through their thin clothes.

“C’mon lads, give them hell!” The voice came from near the bow of the ship. On an elevated platform that housed the steering wheel among other landmarks, a massive man in a tricorne hat sneered as he shouldered a musket and fired at the enemy vessel. He grinned and limped over to the railing that overlooked the rest of the deck, allowing Proto Man to see that he had a peg leg. “Wipe your britches and prepare to be boarded!” As if waiting on cue, the other ship swung hard around, close enough that Proto Man could see the crew hoisting several large planks with hooks on the end.

“What do we do?” Proto Man shouted as the crew of the Blight Runner fired another volley of their muskets. The other youth had already collected a sword and pistol from one of the fallen crewmen.

“We’re two of the five prisoners on this ship…this is the part of the story where we earn our keep by defending the ship from this attack.”

Proto Man nodded and tried to activate the Proto Buster. Much to his dismay, the weapon system along with all of his advanced HUD overlays was offline. “My weapons aren’t work!”

The other boy let out a chuckle. “You’re a teenage boy who steals from food carts o make a living. You don’t have any weapons on you, weirdo. Go grab a sword or a gun like I did. You’ll need it, because we don’t have long before this gets real hairy!”

With a nod, Proto Man crawled over to the freshly dead pirate with the chest wound and collected his saber and flintlock pistol. The android had never actually seen such an antique firearm, but he imagined it had to share the same basic functionality of point, pull trigger, and pray.

“This is it!” The captain roared as finished reloading his musket and fired. On the other ship, a man standing near the railing sagged forward—fresh blood dripping from a wood in the center of his skull. A few other men on the Blight Runner got off shots as well as the boarding planks fell and plunged into the deck. At the same time, men on the other ship started to swing across on ropes as a volley fired to scattered defenders from the inter-boat platform.

The android popped up from behind cover and fired. It became readily clear that he was used to neither the kickback of an actual gun or the act of aiming something in his hand, rather than his actual hand. His shot went off wide, and the android reacted by scowling and hurtling the pistol at his intended target. The sidearm clipped a swinging pirate in the side of the head, and with a scream that contained more shock than agony, the many lost his grip and vanished into the drink.

“Well done!” J’hath shouted as he fired off his own flintlock. His aim was far truer than Proto Man, and his intended target—a man crossing the planks—let out a scream as he took the ball in the chest and crumpled.

With that, the window for ranged combat drew to a close as the attackers reached the ship and drew axes and sabers before moving to engage the dozen or so defenders who remained able to fight.

“If it gets too heavy, try to fall back into the captain’s quarters near the bow. That will bottleneck them, and you’ll be able to defend yourself, since they won’t risk cannons or torches lest they intend to damage their prize.” With that, J’hath sprung up and moved to the nearest attacker. The grizzled, sweaty man sneered at the sight of a youth charging at him with a sword. J’hath however, not only easily parried the oncoming sword blow but twirled under the second swipe and cleaved off the man’s head with the flourish that only a highly skilled swordsman could display.

A nearby pirate drew a pistol and fired at J’hath, but much to Proto Man’s horror, the boy deflected away the musket ball, closed the gap with a spin that evaded a sword swipe, and slashed open the man’s throat. The pirate hit the deck with a thud as J’hath leapt over him and cut down another with a graceful swipe. More men came at the wiry youth, and one or two at a time, each of them fell beneath his sword.

Emerging from his cover, Proto Man found himself set upon by a pirate, who had just overpowered a defender and pushed a blade through his heart. The android parried the man’s first swing and then punched his unoccupied fist into the man’s wrist. A yelp escaped the man as he dropped his weapon and cradled his injured joint. As he tried to process the strength and weight behind the child’s fist, Proto Man scooped the man up over his head. Rushing to the nearest railing, the robot dumped the man over the side and into the ocean.

As he stepped back away from rail, the android looked back to see two more men rushing at him. Proto Man backed up against the railing and kept his eyes on the pair as they zeroed in on him. As the first lunged in, blade-first, the robot hopped up onto the wooden rail and leapt over both men. The second swung up to try and intercept him, but the android twisted midair and landed in a crouch behind the pair. Landing behind the twosome, he dashed forward and slammed both pirates into the rail. The wood held for a split-second before breaking apart, sending the two seamen into the ocean.

Proto Man turned around in time to watch a man across the deck brandish a pistol and fire at him. Before the musket ball found its mark, J’hath moved into its path and took the projectile between the eyes. For a heartbeat, everything faded to black. When the world returned, Proto Man and J’hath were back in the tree lounge. Despite having just been shot dead, the youth was fine, although he wore a confused look on his face.

“You could have just cut down those two men, why’d you draw out that confrontation like that?”

“I didn’t want to kill them. That way, they were removed as threats and had their fate in their own hands.”

“You know those were just simulated people, right? They weren’t real.”

“So? A person is a person, it all feels and looks the same. There are people who would say I’m not real because I have more wire and steel in me than flesh and bone.”

“Have you never killed a person?”

Proto Man shook his head. “No people. Just robots, and an animal once or twice to help feed some hungry friends. But never a person. That’s not a road I want to start down.”

J’hath shook his head. “You won’t survive in this city.”

“I’ve already seen the worst that mankind has to offer, so I think I’ll manage,” Proto Man rebuffed with a heavy scowl. “And where did the whole master swordsman stuff come from? You seemed like a natural twirling around slashing throats and chopping off limbs.”

“It’s how I was raised. The Order and my master prepared me for this. This might be a different world, but the principle is still the same.” J’hath frowned as he glanced down at his hands.

“They raised you to be a weapon? How many people have you senselessly murdered for your principles?”

“No one who didn’t deserve it!” J’hath shouted, his lip quivering as he clenched his hands. “A bunch of thugs and slum lords and Imperial goons.”

“Oh and what happens when all this spills over into the streets?” Proto Man shot back. “Do you think that goons and thugs are going to be the only causalities in the sort of full-scale urban warfare that will happen the moment your army hits the streets?”

“Shut up!” The boy shouted as he wiped the corner of his right eye. “They know what they’re doing. Their in the right!”

“Where are they?” Proto Man asked, his tone cool as the other boy shook with something midway between grief and rage. “Let me talk to them, so I can determine for myself if they’re in the right and know what they’re doing. You know I don’t kill people, so how threatening could I be?”

After what felt like an eternity, J’hath wiped his eyes and muttered a response: “They’re at the Imperial Metal Works. It’s about twenty miles north-north-west of here on the Information Highway.”

“Thank you,” Proto Man muttered as he sat up out of the chair. “Do you live in Coruscant?”

“My master has a few shelters in various verses. I’m usually on Tier Six, but I’ve been to the Vasty Deep and Camelot with him…he has a way to bypass the guards at the main gate and get into the Nexus.”

“Maybe we’ll meet again then,” the android muttered as everything around him faded to white. When shapes and different colors returned, he was standing back in the Dataverse Library, staring at the blank space of wall where the doorway to his little computer room had once been.

“Do you learn anything, Blues?” The Librarian AI asked from behind the youth.

“Yup.” Proto Man whispered with a frown. “My heart’s made of steel, but I’m more human than the people claiming to stand for truth and justice in this city.”
[Image: proto.jpg][Image: DAHost.png]
Dante's Abyss 2015

The Dataverse Library was quiet. Exceptionally quiet.

Since he’d parted ways with the Librarian AI, Proto Man had been trying to locate the other two members of his trio of would-be civil defenders. After a few circuits around the main areas, he quickly realized that they were no where to be found, or he had simply overlooked areas where they may be ferreted away with a book or a terminal. With a frown, the robot finally stopped and dropped into a stool in a secondary reading room northwest of the main area.

No one here at all now. Had the remaining patrons been scared away by the arrival of the three armed Primes looking for the Copper Eye? The android shrugged his shoulders as he looked around the multi-story room. For all he knew, they might be tucked away in private, concealed terminal rooms, like he had been for his foray into the pirate story. They’re probably all members of the Copper Eye anyway… This facility would make the perfect sanctuary… Or prison. Proto Man frowned as he thought of being inserted into one of those virtual worlds and forced to remain there.

Still scowling, the android hopped off the stool and made his way back through the large archway that connected the large secondary room to the even larger central chamber. What if Samus or Nanoha had become trapped somewhere in the building? What if, even now, they were lost at sea or drifting through a virtual representation of outer space? The possibilities were endless, but then again, it was also possible that they simply hadn’t finished whatever research they had set out to accomplish.

I guess I know where to go… Proto Man turned his attention to the doorway that led to the entryway. In the event that the other two failed to show up, he did know the location of the Copper Eye’s base of operations in the Dataverse. He could always travel there himself, and in many ways, that might even be the preferred option. As a child, he would appear far less alarming than a woman in an armored power suit.

The robot frowned as he eyed a seat in the main room. Dropping down into it, he crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back until his shaded eyes were gazing up at the ceiling. He’d feel terrible if he left just as one of them was returning, so he would stay in his chair until it became clear that they weren’t coming back. Only then would he venture on to the Imperial Metal Works.
[Image: proto.jpg][Image: DAHost.png]
Dante's Abyss 2015

“Are you done yet?”

Samus ignored Adam’s voice, focusing on her summoning. She’d been thinking about this one for a while, and wanted to make sure it was perfect. The Chozo had left her many wondrous artifacts, back in her own world. But they’d had a philosophy, and their technology had reflected that. They were not warriors by nature, but scientists and philosophers. Samus had been fighting her entire life, and it left a pretty good picture of the gaps in her arsenal.

First was the Block Beam, a beam that allowed her to materialise large, heavy blocks. Samus was actually surprised that the Chozo hadn’t gotten to this one first. Or perhaps they had, and it was still on some planet in her own galaxy, waiting to be discovered. While her Power Suit could take a few hits, it was always better to let something else take the hit. Something solid. Maybe it was the Chozo in her that made her decide not to opt for a simple, portable shield, instead going for the option with options. She’d been on enough adventures to know that somewhere, somehow, it would come in handy.

Second was something much simpler, and something she knew the Chozo would never fully approve of. A gatling beam. She’d seen many used in the Federation over the years, and even had an opportunity to try one once. It had sat in her mind ever since, the idea gestating and evolving with every new big gun she saw. It had to be the right balance of weight, accuracy and power. Modular, too.

Through the visor of Samus’s helmet, Adam watched his once-subordinate work. He knew that the intense look of focus on her face was the truest thing she had to a smile. As for himself, he no longer had a mouth to smile with, but he felt his emotions prickle with happiness, pride … and behind it, despite trying not to, worry. He hoped that whatever Samus was cooking up would be enough for this world’s enemies. Death was not permanent here, but the experience of it – the pain, the suffering – he did not want Samus to ever have to go through. To come back from it was to come back different. Changed, somehow. His mind – his programming – remained conflicted on the practice.

Samus held her arm cannon up. “Done.”

“Are you going to tell me what you made?”

“Take a look,” said Samus, picking up the helmet and putting it back on.

Adam scanned the suit. “Interesting. You’ve outdone yourself, lady.”

“Yeah.” Samus turned to the door. “Let’s hope it’s enough.”

It only took a few minutes to return to the hallway, where Proto Man was waiting. “Finally,” he said. “Where’s Nanoha?”
[Image: 0bwAI3j.jpg]

It’d been close to ten minutes since he’d reached the main entrance of the library. The forces that had chased the trio to the databanks had dispersed, which meant Proto Man was free to take his time to summon a small hover bike. The jeep was where they had ran from it, but the adolescent didn’t necessarily know the first thing about driving a car. On top of that, he had doubts that he could operate the pedals and still be able to properly steer.

A bike, however, that was a different story. Just as the robot was about to depart, he poked his head back into the build and watched as Samus stepped through the doors of a side room. “Finally,” the android muttered. “Where’s Nanoha?”

“I don’t know,” came the response as the two walked outside the building. “You’ve been busy.”

“Yes.” Proto Man hopped onto his bike as Samus made her way over to the jeep. “I don’t want to wait… I know where these people are and I’d like to stop them before they make a terrible mistake and get themselves killed.”

“Do you have a plan?” Samus asked as she flexed her arm cannon hand.

“Yes,” Proto Man replied as he powered on his vehicle. “I’m going to talk to them.” With that, the preteen took off into the air toward the on-ramp to the Information Highway. Despite having never used a gravity-free bike,his system and his own innate common sense were able to figure it out. By the time he reached the ramp, Samus and the jeep had caught up to him.

The ‘abandoned’ Imperial Metal Works weren’t that far removed from the library. On his way there, the android encountered no mobs of laser-spewing robots to slow his progress. After twenty minutes or so of the Information Highway, Proto Man took the scarcely used exit that led to the old collection of factories.

Proto Man parked his hoverbike outside of the central building. Hopping off the bike, he scanned the parking lot, which was abandoned except for some scattered garbage and an assortment of abandoned cars and service vehicles. Turning his attention to an elevated door on the side of the building, the android slowly traversed the parking lot. To a normal person, the building would have seemed abandoned and in the latter stages of dilapidation. Fortunately, Proto Man wasn’t an ordinary person. His robotic optics could piece-out which of those pieces of debris in front of those windows contained the barrels of rifles and which ones did not. His keener sense for details helped him notice the thin wires extended out of the fuel tanks of almost all the abandoned vehicles he passed.

Samus, who probably had more advanced software than he did, likewise seemed to be aware of their lethal surroundings, but the bounty hunter remained just as calm. As the pair advanced toward the door, none of the hidden guns opened up on them, and none of the cars exploded as they passed them. When he reached the top of the small flight of stairs up to the door, Proto Man held back a smile when the gate opened up for him. With Samus trailing him by a few paces, he stepped over the nondescript threshold and found himself in some sort of improvised defensive point.

What had once been a side entrance hallways for employees had become a sort of murder mill. Plaster or wooden walls were covered in thick metal sheets, and at the end of the hall stood a nasty-looking turret inside and steel and concrete nest.

“Who are you?” A voice demanded from a loudspeaker. “You have five seconds before we paint the walls with the both of you.”

The preteen android lifted his hands into the air. “My name is Blues, and I’m here to talk you all down from this ledge.” There was a pregnant pause, and then a few chuckles floated in through the door on the other side of the hallway’s entrenchment.

“Who sent you here, child? Was it that chaplain? Or perhaps the anti-terrorism agent at the Imperial Headquarters? Or was it that turtle? Which one of them knew we were here?” As if to prove that they weren’t playing around, the machine gun slowly started to hum to life, prompting Samus to ready her weapon. Proto Man pushed the woman’s hand down and stepped toward the weapon.

“J’hath sent me,” Proto Man shouted so he could be heard over the deafening weapon.” At that, the gun died down, and a beat later, the door swung open. A trio of heavily armed men stepped through, their weapons already trained on the pair in the hallway.

The man at the center cocked his weapon and glared at the preteen robot. “What did you do to the child?”

“Nothing,” Proto Man responded, raising his hands once again. “He’s relaxing at the library. Like I said, I’m here to talk.”

After mulling over the robot’s remarks for a few moments, the man lowered his weapon and gestured with his head toward the open doorway. “Come inside… you have three minutes.”
[Image: proto.jpg][Image: DAHost.png]
Dante's Abyss 2015

As they crossed the threshold, the pair of Primes both noticed the large whirring machines to their left and right. The man with the rifle gestured toward them with his head. “They’re scanners. You got anything hidden on you, and we’re going to know.”

Proto Man shrugged his shoulders--he had nothing to hide--as he scanned the inside of the metal works. The interior of the Copper Eye’s stronghold didn’t speak nefarious paramilitary terrorist group. If anything, it seemed like most of their operatives were barely alive. Most were skinny, and almost all of them looked as if they’d slept less than eight hours in the last week. Even so, they were all within an arm’s reach of an extremely fancy-looking rifle, and from their eyes, none of them would hesitate to use them.

“What are you doing here?” The center man asked as he shut the door behind them and turned his eyes--and his gun--toward the pair. Proto Man wasn’t sure if he was the leader or merely the point man, but either way, he seemed to be the only one talking.

“Yes, what are we doing here?” Samus’ voice was nearly a growl behind her helmet. The way the woman’s weapon hand was tensed, it was obvious that the pot was on the verge of boiling over. “We found the hornet’s nest.”

“You want to kick that nest and see what happens, Lady?” The man asked, lifting his gun so it was flush with Samus’ helmeted head. In response, the bounty hunter swung up her hand, which was a cannon by the time it was in line for the shot.

“You pull that trigger and it will be the last thing you ever do.” All around them, people reached for weapons and automated turrets roared to life. Realizing that he’d lose control of the situation if he did nothing, Proto Man pointed his hand into the air and fiired off a burst of energy up into the air. While it didn’t have the resonating bang that a gunpowder weapon would have had, it got the point across nonetheless when the energy burst slammed through the reinforced steel roof of the factory.

“What are we doing here?” Samus asked, her primed weapon falling to her side as she pivoted to face the preteen. “We’re here to do a job and get paid. You’re not supposed to feel sympathy for the murderers. What was your endgame supposed to be?” She added as she gestured to the room filled with armed insurrectionists.

“It wasn’t going to involve mass murder,” Proto Man shot back.

“These people are all guilty of that very same crime,” Samus retaliated, prompting a few of the Copper Eye members to bristle or scowl. “They knew what they were doing the moment they started blowing up buildings and getting people killed.”

“You ever think they were driven to this?” Proto Man demanded. “You’ve seen Coruscant… you can’t possibly tell me that’s a place where freedom thrives.”

“Politics is none of my business, Blues.” Samus replied with a shrug of her armored shoulders.

“We’re being used by the Empire to do their dirty work, Samus, you can’t tell me you’re willing to be someone’s hired gun.”

Now it was Samus’ turn to bristle, as the woman in the suit surveyed the room full of dirty and haggard-looking men and women. Before she had a chance to offer up a response, several klaxons all started to shriek, prompting every member of the Copper Eye to start scampering around.

The man who’d done the talking earlier ran to a speaker. “What the hell is going on?”
[Image: proto.jpg][Image: DAHost.png]
Dante's Abyss 2015

“That kid is bugged,” the mortified voice squeaked through the microphone. “We’ve got numerous Imperial forces closing in on this location.”

If he had a heart, Proto Man figured it would have stopped beating upon hearing that exchange of dialogue. Instead, he found his system frantically running diagnostics as the members of the Copper Eye attempted to mount a defense. The man at the speaker, his eyes now boring holes through Proto Man, depressed the communication button. “Why the hell didn’t you know that the second he walked in?”

“B-because it’s literally buried in the center his body...the security scans only analyze so many centimeters beneath the skin. It wouldn’t have picked up a thing if that device hadn’t have transmitted a signal.”

“How long to do we have?” The man screamed as everyone became aware of the chorus of approaching anti-grav engines.

“We don’t. They’r--a” Wherever the security guy was stationed, it took a direct hit from something very large. The line immediately went dead and the entire building shuddered beneath the force of the impact. A beat later, another explosion rang out, this much much closer to their location. Screams could be heard leaking in from adjacent hallways, and somewhere behind the shouts and gunshots, the sound of heavy metal boots could be heard marching through the crumbling installation.

Turning to face Proto Man and Samus, their interrogator lifted his rifle and pointed it at the preteen’s helmeted skull. “Why did you lead them straight to us? You duped us!”

“I didn’t!” The robot pleaded as a scan of his thoracic cavity revealed an anomaly tucked in next to the machinery that regulated the cardiovascular functions of his organic layer. A specific scan showed that the device was a low-profile, one-way transmitter that was encrypted in such a manner to numb his normal systems to its presence. A probe into the encryptions revealed traces of code he recognized from analyzing Imperial firewalls. How… how did they do this to me? Proto Man began to shiver as the first energy bolts began to punch through the thin interior walls of the structure. Men and woman let out screams before they were forever silenced by the Imperial war machine grinding its way through the Copper Eye’s bastion. They’re all going to die, and it’s my fault…

“I-I swear I wasn’t aware of this! Please, you have to believe me, ” He added, turning his head to Samus. While she couldn’t see his eyes through the visor, the armored woman could easily read the boy’s trembling lower lip and the wet stains on his lower cheeks.

The Copper Eye spokesperson drew a knife and rushed him. Horror at the situation and his role in it kept Proto Man locked in place as the man came at him, but the knife never found its mark. With a swiftness one wouldn’t normally expect from someone in such a suit, Samus casually disarmed the man and pinned him to the floor. “The kid’s telling the truth.”

“Bullshit!” The defeated man rasped as he writhed under the woman’s overpowering grip. “They’re deaths are all on you!” He added, this time his venomous words were aimed at the preteen robot, who was still trembling uncontrollably.

“Oh god, it’s all over!” Someone shrieked before some sort of round punched through the wall, sunk into their body, and blew them into pieces of bloody confetti. A beat later, a section of that same wall was leveled, and through the debris stepped Judge Dredd and four of the Empire’s Elite Space Marines. In just a matter of minutes, the five soldiers had slaughtered all of the factory’s defenders, and not a single one of them seemed to bear any scuff marks.

After surveying the scene and putting a bullet through someone still groaning on the ground, Dredd walked over to the three people still standing around near the side entrance. The Judge looked at the two Primes before tilting his head to see the man that Samus still held to the ground.

“You bastard! We will not be fo--” A well-aimed shot zipped passed Samus’ shoulder and blew apart the man’s skull, splattering the woman’s suit with blood. Perhaps out of shock at the suddenness of the execution, she kept her hands on the corpse for a few moments longer.

“You two did good leading us right to them.”

“This was your plan all along? To use us as bait?” Samus demanded as she rose to her full frame and turned her focus to the imperial military officer.

Half a smirk spread across the visible half of Dredd’s grizzled visage as he looked down at Proto Man. “I wouldn’t say that, but with this kid and the brunette along for the ride, Gero and I didn’t want to take any chances.”

“How did you do it?” Proto Man screamed as his grief and sorrow subsided, momentarily overwhelmed by how much he loathed and abhorred the judge. The boy lunged, his hand finding the knife on the way, but Samus quickly stuck a hand out to stop him, with elicited a faint laugh from Dredd.

“Don’t take it personally,” he replied, his gruff voice devoid of any malice, which only served to infuriate Proto Man further. “Gero’s built countless androids, so it wasn’t hard for him to plant that device on you when he uploaded you to the Dataverse. His exact language was ‘I could do that blindfolded’. You shouldn’t take it personally, it was just a contingency in the event that you were captured, which is obviously what happened,” the faint traces of a smile on the man’s face told Proto Man that Dredd knew exactly what the robot had attempted to do here.

“You’re a soulless bastard,” the adolescent android screamed as he turned the knife and plunged it into his chest. Both Samus and the usually stoic Dredd seemed taken off guard by the display, and the latter was certainly amused when the robot ripped the blade out to reveal a small metal device on its tip. Throwing the knife-impaled bug at the judge’s foot, Proto Man lifted his arm cannon and leveled it with his visored nemesis.

“Threatening a Judge on Imperial territory is punishable by summary execution, and given that this factory is still on our ledgers, you may want to rethink your decision.”

A small part of Proto Man wanted to take the shot, regardless of the consequences, but in the end, rational thought prevailed. His hand cannon fell to his side, and by the time it brushed his hip, it had reverted to a hand. “I won’t forget this.”

Another almost-smile flashed across Dredd’s face. “Neither will I. I’m certain that the Emperor will give you both medals for your duty to him and the state.”
[Image: proto.jpg][Image: DAHost.png]
Dante's Abyss 2015

Retroact 1

"So, how does all this work?"

Nanoha ran a hand over the back of the wooden chair before pulling it out from the desk. It felt real enough, but there was still something strange and ephemeral about the Dataverse. Her magic worked here just fine, but the idea of an entirely virtual world was still an absurdity to her.

"Well, you can use the terminal there much like you would any other computer, or you can enter a full VR and sift through the available data in person." The voice of the Librarian filled the small room as one of his avatars flickered into life in front of the desk.

"I think I'll just stick with the terminal, thanks." The idea of emulation within emulation was not something particularly comfortable, she felt. "Is there somewhere I can directly connect Raising Heart to your system?" Barely a second after she finished her query a section of the desk shimmered and a small indentation morphed into its surface. After a curt nod of affirmation from Nanoha, The Device floated down to rest in the waiting receptacle.

Connection established. Databanks access acquired.

"Good. Raising Heart, would you look into what you can find about this current situation please? I am going to take a look through this system for anything related to the Omniverse itself. This is as good a time as any to try and find out more about this Lost Logia."

Yes, my master.

With that settled, Nanoha looked back up at the AI Librarian standing before her. "I suppose you'll have another part of yourself working with Raising Heart, right?" A nod in response; short and efficient. "In which case, I'd like your assistance in digging up whatever data you have on this... Omniverse."

The avatar splayed his hands in front of him, holographic interfaces appearing instantly, "Certainly. Do you have any specific keywords you would like to search for?"

Nanoha tapped at the desk absent-mindedly as she thought about it. "Yeah. See if you can find any mention of 'Lost Logia', anything about 'Omni' himself, and any mention of someone escaping this place."

The Librarian held up a palm toward her as she finished. "I can answer your last query without a search. As far as the databanks have recorded, no Primes have ever left the Omniverse. That is not to say that it is impossible, but the only way would be through Omni. However, none of the Primes who have met Omni have ever left the Omniverse."

The answer sounded like a canned line, repeated over and over throughout whatever length of time he had been here, mused Nanoha. The topic of escaping the Omniverse must be something commonly investigated, though that wasn't exactly surprising.

"Very well, then, see what you can find about those other two topics. I'm going to have a look around your 'databanks' myself."

The librarian bowed deeply and vanished, leaving Nanoha to the gentle hum of the terminal in front of her. With a small sigh she sat down and went to work.
[Image: nanoha_zps8059419b.jpg]

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