“You’re as delusional as you are weak, Ultros,” conceded Ishmael as he gazed at the horrific scene in front of him. His IAX machine, Id, revved as he kept his right hand on the main engine’s control switch and opened the cockpit with his left hand. He viewed the disastrous sight with his naked eyes. “Zirana maybe injured, but she can dispose of you without my help. You’re just a pathetic weakling hiding behind your philosophy of death. It’s easy to be nothing, but inventing and creating something takes determination and a sound, clear mind. You can’t defeat me anymore, you filthy barbarian.”
Ultros snarled. His crooked, scared body snaked along the battle field. “You are nothing without your technology, so I decided to borrow a few items – and I used them to my advantage. Your precious Treasure Trove is mine!”
Ishmael looked at Zirana as she was situated on her hands and knees next to her damaged MWS. She was directly in front of The Cult’s emaciated leader. “Now – The Cult of Ultros is a threat to us and the future of all mankind,” Ishmael remarked imperatively. “Zirana, do you need help with this scum?”
“No, sir. I can handle him,” Zirana snarled as she stared into Ultros’s beady black eyes. Her pain gave way to adrenaline. “Go to the center of the valley – go to the fortress and help the others. This cretin dies here – in this war he constructed.”
“No problem. That shouldn’t take long. I will be back for you, Commander. Try to stay within the borders of the valley – do not advance back to the ridge. I will keep your location on my tactical screen,” Ishmael affirmed. Ishmael closed the cockpit doors, accelerated IAX’s engines, and ascended into the air.
“Good. This shouldn’t take long either,” hissed Zirana. She could not hold back her calm demeanor any longer. The Commander General was now savage and ruthless. She slowly rose to her feet.
In sync with her movements, Ultros advanced toward Zirana with his warped body limping ghastly through the steaming sludge and battle debris.
Ishmael maxed out the throttle and overtook the advancing army of Cult MWS forces. Several enemy units launched rockets at The Treasure Trove’s reinforced walls. White streaks of smoke raced across the sky and exploded on impact. The outer walls of The Treasure Trove cracked. Concrete and steel flew in all directions. Large chunks of wall slid away and landed on the soft, muddy turf of the valley.
Ishmael flew Id over the mine field and circled around The Treasure Trove Fortress. The huge, square building appeared to be intact; however, he noticed that the softer, inner walls were exposed in several areas. The Leader of The Builders estimated that another hour of this siege would result in the Treasure Trove’s ultimate destruction. “The Cult has been working hard to bring The Treasure Trove down, but they will not win this war!” Ishmael called out on the open coms channel.
“Hurry, sir!” shouted Balzad from the control bunker on the east end of Layer One in City-State.
“Vital signs look good, Ishmael! Take out those remaining Cult soldiers, and get back to Zirana,” cheered Melchiot.
“Roger that,” confirmed Ishmael.
As he continued his arcing pass around The Trove, Ishmael noticed several trenches dug out in the ground near the base of the building. The frightened, bloodied members of The Cult took refuge in shallow bunkers with The Trove to their immediate south and the minefield to their north. Ishmael used the tactical display to zoom in on their faces. Their filthy features did not resemble anything human – these cult members displayed pure, animalistic evil and deadly aggression. Ultros created these monsters.
Most of The Cult soldiers clutched their stolen rifles close to their raggedy brown robes while Id flew near them. Several enemy soldiers took shots at Id, but it was in vain. They could not hit the fast-flying IAX vehicle, and even if they succeeded, the bullets bounced off the space-aged armor with ease.
Ishmael ignored the raucous cult soldiers and turned his attention toward the twenty-five opposing MWS units advancing toward The Treasure Trove. The enemy stopped just short of the mine field. Ishmael brought Id to a hovering stop just in front of their position, taunting the wretched members of The Cult.
Several Cult MWS units dropped their melee weapons and loaded high powered, rapid-fire machineguns. The enemy took aim and fired. The machine guns flashed as they spat out armor-piercing bullets. Ishmael easily dodged to the right as the bullets zipped past him.
More gun fire came from Ishmael’s right side, so he pushed up with his legs. The IAX emitted a strange green light from its clean-burning thrusters. Id rose rapidly in the air about one hundred feet, leaving behind a shockwave of green energy that pulsed in every direction. Several enemy MWS units toppled over from the force of the blast. They quickly regained their feet and resumed their vicious gun fire.
Ishmael heard several distinct plink sounds as bullets bounced off his crimson armor. “Better not tempt fate,” he thought as he pushed backwards, distancing himself from the enemy MWS units. Finally, Ishmael spun in the air and thrust Id higher; he was now out of the range of his rivals’ gun fire. The Cult members hissed and screeched like rabid dogs as Ishmael left the battle.
“That’s enough,” Ishmael whispered solemnly. “Time to end this.”
Ishmael The Wanderer, leader of The Builders and the founder of City-State, crossed his arms over his chest. The flying death-machine, Id, copied his movements. Ishmael pushed his arms out in a natural movement and unleashed a double shot of green-blue energy from the emitters on Id’s forearms. The energy blast went out in an “X” formation. It travelled too quickly for The Cult MWS pilots below to react. Most just stood there as they met their death. The blast melted the armored hulls of the enemy MWS machines. Fuel tanks exploded, sending pitch black smoke and fire across the valley.
Twelve of The Cult MWS units immediately exploded, sending flesh, bone, and metal into the dank air. Thirteen others scrambled futilely for cover. Ishmael maneuvered to his left and found another group of four Cult MWS units. With a slash of his right hand, he ejected a flash of green energy. The beam cut the units across their chests, cleaving them in a multitude jagged pieces. As the machines toppled to the ground, their fuel tanks ignited, reducing them to smoking husks of melted steel.
“It didn’t have to be this way,” mourned Ishmael. But in his heart, he knew that he made the right decision. “You and your brainwashed savages could have just left us alone, Ultros.”
Ishmael circled back and found an additional group of two Cult MWS units toeing the line of the mine field. He motioned his hand to slash and hit the ground next to the enemy. Within seconds, a blast of rock and sand engulfed the enemy units. They lost their balance and toppled into the mine field. Both MWS’s connected with land mines and detonated on impact. The blast sent dirt and sharp rocks into the air. The cluttered debris landed inside the mine field and caused a chain reaction as more land mines exploded.
Hundreds of mines went off in rapid succession, killing many of the entrenched cult members huddled in their bunkers. Ishmael heard the guttural screams of enemy soldiers as the animalistic, primitive beings died in the violent blast.
Immediately after that, Id’s proximity alarm sounded from behind him. Ishmael turned around just in time to see several rocket-propelled grenades explode in his face. Emergency alarms blasted his ears. The IAX lost power, and he went into freefall. The force of the blast nearly knocked him unconscious as Id thumped and smashed into the ground, jolting every bone in Ishmael’s body.
“Damn foot soldiers!” cursed Ishmael as Id lay on the ground. “I thought they were hiding in the trenches. I won’t make that mistake again. Balzad? Melchiot? Is anyone there? Do you copy?”
Ishmael’s console was black. There was an immediate silence. He started pushing buttons in numeric and alphabetic sequence to reboot the IAX. Nothing. From the left, he could feel the slight vibration of adversary MWS units charging the war torn ground. He did not have much time. Suddenly, the silence was broken as he heard a soft tremble on the surface about ten feet from Id.
“How did Balzad say to start this thing?” Ishmael wondered aloud. “That’s right!” he shouted as he remembered.
The Cult MWS units were getting closer. He found the keyboard and entered the numerical and alphabetical sequence of 239571.ICD.100090. Instantaneously, the IAX weapon jumped to life just as an iron club smashed into his chest.
Ishmael felt Id falling backward. He placed his arms down and positioned them behind him. Id stopped his fall, but it was awkwardly situated on his hands and feet; the machine faced up to the dim sky. The enemy MWS unit charged at him with full force. Ishmael stuck his foot out toward the MWS’s head and ignited Id’s lower boosters. The Cult’s MWS’s head immediately became engulfed in blue fire and ferociously exploded.
The flame was so hot that the MWS’s head kept burning. “That’s where all their sensors are located,” remarked Ishmael, realizing the enemy was blind. He jumped up, bringing Id to its feet. The Cult soldiers wandered off into the minefield and imploded after stepping on a mine.
Ishmael jumped up, bringing Id back to flight. He quickly tracked down the last of the rival MWS units, and he blasted them with alternating energy bursts from his left and right arms. One by one, the enemy forces exploded and melted. To be sure Ultros’s men were dead, Ishmael sliced each machine in two pieces using Id’s superior weaponry.
He checked his screen to reveal a field of carnage within the valley beside The Treasure Trove Fortress: twenty-five enemy MWS unites lay in various states of annihilation. “Now, for the soldiers,” Ishmael indicated blandly.
Ishmael circled Id around the perimeter of the valley and faced the minefield. He blasted a long, straight line down the center of the field, detonating all the mines in that area. The ground rocked like a massive earthquake engulfed the area. Several pieces of The Treasure Trove’s damaged walls crumbled to the damp earth. “That should allow our people to get to The Trove,” thought Ishmael.
“Balzad, send to any active foot soldiers and MWS units. The Trove is open. They can take cover,” Ishmael directed.
“Got it, boss,” replied Balzad.
Ishmael brought Id low and hovered over the trench line. He saturated the underground portion with a heavy dose of green energy. The Cult members’ bodies incinerated as soon as the sun-hot plasma scorched their robed bodies. Ishmael made one last pass over the trench to check for enemy and ally survivors.
“None – there are no survivors,” he murmured to himself. After Ishmael passed over the trench, he scanned the area, and began to maneuver Id to Zirana’s location. His tactical screen identified the Commander General and The Cult leader about twenty feet from one another – they did not move from their original position.
“She’s still there with Ultros. I have to get to her,” he stated.
Melchiot entered the conversation, “Sir, your vitals are showing elevated signs of stress, how do you feel?”
“I will feel great once Ultros is dead, Mel,” he continued.
“Go get her, sir. She is wounded, and she’ll require your assistance. Her vitals are on your screen, and I have maxed out Id’s power supply,” Balzad interjected.
“Roger that, gentlemen. But Ultros his Zirana’s prize. She must have the glory of killing that devil,” Ishmael confirmed.
Zirana stood firmly the muddy ground, her boots anchored into the earth. She intently stared at Ultros, and then surveyed the area. The entire surface was riddled with holes, gigantic footprints, and broken MWS parts. She then took her gaze from The Cult leader and her surroundings and locked her eyes on to Yeltahl’s MWS which was pinned beneath two Cult MWS units. She silently screamed for her friend’s ill met fate. The Commander General took a soggy step forward, wanting to desperately attack Ultros. However, her military training and sharp instincts forced her to be patient.
The injured cult leader crawled on his hands and knees in the mud. He feebly attempted to escape. Zirana noticed the singed robe and his badly burned left leg which oozed blood through a charred wound. Zirana could not help but laugh.
“We made such an effort to defeat you,” she said breathlessly. Her wounded body allowed her to hobble toward him in the hot mud. “It’s the great and powerful Ultros and his maniacal cult of mindless zombies!” she scoffed. “You’re nothing but a pathetic weakling!”
“I’ll bury you!” shouted Ultros as he crawled away from Zirana. “You haven’t beaten me!”
“You really are delusional,” offered Zirana, laughing at the sick, comical scene. Sudden anger erupted from deep within her soul. “Where do you think you are going?” Zirana demanded angrily. “You’re going to pay for this!” She pointed to the carnage around her. “You’re going to die – here. You’re going to die now!”
Zirana grabbed her pistol from the mud next to her demolished MWS tank and trained it on Ultros. He was defenseless and unarmed, but Zirana did not care. “Your idiotic, barbaric philosophy is responsible for this war!”
“Don’t kill me,” shrieked Ultros. “I surrender.” Ultros collapsed in the mud as his knees clasped underneath his bony frame.
Zirana shook her head. “No,” she ordered. “You will die by my hand. There is no mercy for you. You will not have a quiet death a prison. You’re weak minded and weak-willed. You’re power was just a way of hiding your weakness,” Zirana shouted as she raised the pistol between Ultros’s dark eyes. Despite her injuries, she held the pistol in a steady manner.
“I’m unarmed,” accused Ultros. “You would kill an unarmed man?”
“Man?” mused Zirana. “No, I would not kill an unarmed man. But you? You’re not a man; you’re a despicable creature. Your death will be easy and enjoyable.”
A shot rang out. Zirana felt a stabbing pain strike her left arm. She spun to the ground, rolled to her right and popped up, aiming the pistol in the direction of the shot.
Zirana saw a Cult member with a pistol aimed at her. She squeezed the trigger confidently. The bodyguard’s head snapped back as a clean shot to his forehead ended his inept attempt to save his master.
Ishmael’s IAX machine slowly hovered into the area. Steam slowly flowed from the hot red armor. There was a loud piercing blip that screeched form Id’s loudspeaker.
“Zirana, you’re injured,” came Ishmael’s amplified voice. “Let me vaporize this wretch and be done with it.”
“No,” she yelled at the demon machine. She clutched her left arm. “No,” she said more calmly. “I’ll do it.”
Zirana limped toward Ultros who resorted to dragging his inoperable leg. From the rubble of the destroyed transport truck, another Cult member jumped out to defend his leader. He hurled his body onto Zirana’s torso, and he managed to get his hands around her throat.
Zirana gagged, and her muddy hands dropped the pistol. Ultros limped to maintain her pistol as his tainted soldier struggled with the Commander General. His skeleton rattled as he hobbled to the weapon.
Zirana took a step back with her right leg. She weaved her right arm through the top of the attacker’s arms. Her left arm snaked through the bottom. She clasped her hands together and twisted her body to the right. The torque pried the enemy’s arms apart. The Cult member’s hands tore away from her throat as his body smashed into the ground. He popped up with fanatical quickness and lunged at Zirana again.
The Commander General shot her foot out and connected with his groin. The cultist doubled over in pain. The momentum of his body carried him forward. Zirana stepped to her left and placed her left hand on the attacker’s right shoulder; her right hand cupped his chin on the left side. She snapped her right hand up and pushed her left hand down. The cultist’s neck broke with a satisfying crack.
“Rot in your nothingness,” she cursed as her opponent’s body slumped to the slimy, bloody ground.
Zirana turned to face Ultros; he clutched her pistol. The Cult leader’s shot rang out, and Zirana was hit in the abdomen on her right side. Now wounded twice, she dropped to her knees as she wailed in pain. Ultros laughed loudly as he watched the blood stream from Zirana’s side.
Ishmael stepped forward, but a hidden Cultist fired his rocket launcher directly into Id’s sensor panel on the machines face. Ishmael’s killing machine went offline immediately as sparks rained down no Ishmael inside the cockpit.
“Oh, Ishmael, it seems you’re not so invincible,” Ultros smirked.
IAX’s cockpit slowly opened, and the killing machine slumped to the ground. Ishmael’s protection and his communication abilities were eradicated. With his hands up in the air, he stepped out of the IAX.
Ultros snickered as he kept Zirana’s pistol trained on her, and the last remaining cultist pointed a weapon on Ishmael. “You see?” remarked the Cult Leader. He crawled on one hand and his knees. His badly damaged leg prevented him from standingfully erect. “Everything you think you know is useless. For every trained man you have, I will have a hundred barbarians. For every gadget you create, I’ll use it to destroy you! The Treasure Trove is mine, and I’ll destroy everything with it. Mankind is nothing more than a collective of mindless animals!”
“Damn you!” Zirana swore. “Come here, and I’ll kill you with my hands.”
“Death is meaningless!” shouted Ultros. He coughed and winced as he tried to stand. Instead, his burned leg buckled, and he fell back to the mud. The gun never left his hand. “Life is meaningless!” Ultros shouted with wild eyes, keeping the weapon pointed at Zirana.
Ishmael ground his teeth, waiting for the split second he needed to grab the pistol from his holster located under his pilot suit’s left breast pocket. “From the void, we came and to the void we shall return. Knowledge isn’t real, and it does you no good!”
Zirana winced in pain; she pressed on her wounds. Ultros continued gloating. “I will kill your precious prophet again! I will destroy City-State and The Treasure Trove, and you will be nothing but a memory.” He observed her as she flexed her left arm and clutched her side. “Unfortunate,” he mused. Blood oozed down his charred leg. “You’d have made a fine barbarian. You kill. You destroy! That’s what my Cult is! You just chose the wrong side. Death awaits us all. Now you see why it is so foolish to try and know – to attempt to progress. It was this knowledge that destroyed the world. Yes, death comes for everyone. And today, I’ll send you back to the void.”
Zirana looked down at her right side. She was losing substantial amounts of blood. She turned her gaze to her leader who gave her a hopeful look. The Commander General glanced back at Ultros. “Come on, you bastard!” she coughed. “Come on, and do it!”
Zirana heard a rumble from behind her. She felt a warm breeze blow her sweaty hair off her neck. From underneath two enemy MWS units, Yeltahl’s Advanced-MWS’s engine revved up, shaking the ground violently. He managed to restart his machine. With great effort, the damaged machine threw off the dead Cult units and regained its bearings. Armed with a machine gun, the Builder unit slowly advanced toward Zirana, Ishmael, and Ultros.
“Yeltahl! To the right!” screamed Ishmael.
A large gash in Yeltahl’s MWS machine allowed to hear Ishmael. Zirana’s First Officer was alive, but he was mangled inside the walking tank. A deep gash encompassed his right cheek, and he appeared to have minimal use of his left side.
“Yes, sir!” exclaimed Yeltahl.
Immediately, Ultros’s eyes went wide in terror. His focus moved from Zirana and Ishmael to a bent and broken MWS tank furiously approaching him. A large machine gun was pointed on Ultros’s forehead. The Cult leader’s hand went limp, and Ishmael quickly grabbed his pistol from under his pilot suit. In one swift motion, Ishmael put a bullet clean between the Cult soldier’s eyes who disabled Id. Zirana, encouraged by the chaos, took her chance.
She lunged at the cultist leader, striking him hard in the chest. She knocked the gun from his grasp. They both toppled over into the mud. She felt his frail body fighting in vain to overcome her own battle-hardened strength. Her hands found his throat, and she closed her hands with supernatural strength. In this moment, her adrenaline pumped ferociously through her veins. Zirana was oblivious to her deadly wounds.
Her grip tightened. Ultros harmlessly beat his hands against her back and the side of her head, but his frail body was no match for Zirana’s years of trained combat experience.
The Commander General closed her hands tighter around her enemy’s neck as Ishmael and Yeltahl kept the area secure. Ultros’s blood-shot eyes bulged as his mouth managed only faint choking gags. Finally, Ultros’s body went limp, and his mouth opened wide in a silent scream. Zirana did not let go.
“I hate you!” she cried. Tears of sorry and pain rolled down her cheeks. “This was your fault! My soldiers – my friends died because of you! This war was meaningless!”
Zirana slammed the dead man’s head into the ground repeatedly as she let loose a volley of guttural, unintelligible screams. She lost her ability to speak momentarily as she unleashed continuous punishment on the corpse of the man who caused so much death and destruction. Ultros gasped for one last breath.
Zirana suddenly felt a warm hand on her shoulder. She turned to see Ishmael’s kind face standing directly behind her. He exited the IAX and placed his hand on her shoulder. Yeltahl was a few feet behind her, protecting both of his superiors.
“Let go, Zirana. Let him go,” Ishmael whispered.
Ultros’s dead body slumped to the wet ground. His neck remained tightly in her grasp.
“Let him go,” Ishmael whispered again. “It’s over.”
“Yes, sir,” Zirana exclaimed dreamily. Her eyes were unfocused. She released Ultros’s crooked, emaciated frame and let it rest on the battle field. Zirana screamed in pain; her wounded ached and burned. Ishmael caught Zirana’s broken body as she attempted to regain her footing. She closed her eyes.
Ishmael looked through the plate glass in the infirmary on the east end of Layer One within City-State. Zirana rested comfortably in bed as several machines monitored her vitals.
Melchiot stood beside Ishmael and smiled. “She is going to be just fine, sir, thanks to you.”
“Thanks, Mel,” replied Ishmael. “But your masterful medical skills are what really saved her. You didn’t even use the nanomachines.”
“Well,” sighed Melchiot. “I was thinking about what Balzad said earlier, and maybe… Maybe I should put them away for a while. He is right; they are too dangerous.”
“Really?” asked Ishmael, surprised. “They saved me, didn’t they?”
“Yes, but it was just by luck that you didn’t have more intense side-effects. I think I’ll focus on other technology for a while – mainly communication and construction projects.”
“Fair enough,” agreed Ishmael. “Balzad has already agreed to seal away Id, I mean the IAX.”
“It is probably for the best,” Melchiot nodded. “City-State should be a place founded on the peaceful exchange of ideas for mutual benefit – not about weapons.”
“I think you’re right,” Ishmael smiled. “I think we’re going to release the information in The Treasure Trove and make it free for everyone.”
“Is that really wise, sir?” asked Melchiot. “I know we believe in freedom, but look at what Ultros accomplished. Look how he used our own technology against us. Maybe a more controlled approach to The Treasure Trove is appropriate.”
“Honestly, Mel,” replied Ishmael. He thought for a moment and shrugged. “Maybe you’re right.”
“There have been reports that more and more people want to locate to City-State,” Balzad informed, changing the subject. “Now that The Cult is gone, they feel safer to travel here.”
“That’s great news, Bal,” Ishmael stated with a genuine smile.
“Which reminds me, sir,” continued Balzad. “We should start engineering City-State to incorporate the Multi-Layered design as soon as possible. There are very few inhabitable areas left in the world. There will be a great number of people coming to this nation.”
“You mean my layered bunker design?” Ishmael asked curiously.
“Yes,” answered Balzad. “We can reengineer it for a city-wide application. We could build layer upon layer of city here and drill it down into the earth each time a new layer is built. The geothermal heat underground and the natural insulation will help us keep the entire city energy efficient. It will also add a layer of protection against any future invaders.”
“Is that how I designed it? My mind is still a little frail from the nanomachines,” explained Ishmael.
“Yes, your memories will return. These designs are impeccable, and the Multi-Layered system will be indestructible,” nodded Balzad. He looked at his brother, Melchiot.
Melchiot smiled and then noticed Zirana move in her bed. “Sir, I think she is awake. You should talk to her.”
Ishmael nodded and walked to the infirmary door. He pushed it open and took quiet steps toward Zirana. “Hey there.”
“What do you want?” chided Zirana. I see that you are by my side again… need a bodyguard or something?”
Ishmael laughed. “I was hoping you can punch Yeltahl for me. He’s recovered already, and he told me to tell you that you need to quit slacking off.”
Zirana chuckled. She paused before changing the subject. “So it’s over, right?” she asked hopefully. At this moment, her blue eyes displayed exhaustion and a sincere kindness.
“No,” Ishmael shook his head soberly. Then the leader of The Builders smiled; his mood switched to one of enlightenment. “It has only just begun. The year is 2217. Hopefully, the future of City-State will be optimistic. The residents of this nation should use The Treasure Trove to paint a marvelous scene in the years to come. I have faith that City-State’s impending leaders use this technology wisely.”
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