[Open] The Ashes and The Fallout

Roy Mustang

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The pre-morning haze was cut by beams of light as the 17th excavation squad approached the impact zone. The nuclear blast had detonated off the the ground, and sections of the surrounding debris had been flattened smooth by the impact. Geiger counters ticked away on the outside of the radiation suits they wore. The cloud of dust and particles hadn't dissipated yet, the area around the impact still covered with an unnerving yellowish haze.

Sergeant Jean Havoc slid down an incline that had likely once been a set of stairs. He really shouldn't have bothered learning the map of this sector in retrospect. This close to the point of impact the nuclear blast had so transformed the landscape that there were really no landmarks left. Spotting a noticeably intact chunk of rubble, he motioned two of the men over. Together, the three of them levered it away kicking up a cloud of dust and haze. A dark opening loomed out from behind it. The basement's roof had largely been vaporized in the blast, but some of the walls were still intact enough that they'd formed a sort of makeshift cave with a ceiling of collapsed rubble. The closest thing to a shelter that could have survived this close to the impact point. Havoc stepped down into the space cautiously, his flashlight swept through the darkened space illuminating crates and walls coated with dust and debris. A storage area perhaps?

The excavation squad moved into the space carefully, wary of an ambush. Sergeant Havoc took a position at the corner of the next doorway, painfully aware that his ticking Geiger counter would make his presence painfully obvious to anyone in the next room. He tipped his head around the corner, risking a glance. His eyes widened at the sight.

"Right, spread out and make sure there aren't any more of them hiding in some crevice down here. Fuery, Kenning, Pollik, you're with me."

There was a variety of assents as the excavation squad moved through the area. Havoc stepped into the room; the shrine most likely, given the look of things. The hunk of metal had been placed there with a clear reverence, a raised position in the center of the far wall. There were small raptor-like zoid corpses arrayed around the room facing it. It would have taken them quite some time for the things to drag such a big chunk of metal down here. The idiots had probably gotten too much radiation from the thing on the way down.

"This is what we're looking for, right Fuery?" Havoc asked as he surveyed the scene, reaching for a smoke then cursing the radiation suit.

Private Fuery looked up from inspecting one of the zoid bodies. He showed Havoc a screen from his scanning device, which the latter looked at blankly.

"Probably. It doesn't match any of the alloys we typically use for construction, and it's dumping radiation into the room, way more than it should this far from the impact."

"That's good enough for me! I'll radio it in to the boss." Havoc reached down to the mobile comms unit Fuery was wearing on his back and held the speaker up to his suit a bit awkwardly. If nuclear weapons were going to be a common thing, they'd need to improve their gear for handling this cleanup process.

"Hey there, Lieutenant Colonel." Havoc pronounced the last two words with a bit of extra embellishment, "It's your lucky day. Looks like we managed to find a decent chunk of it."

---

"Right, that'll have to be good enough then." Lieutenant Colonel Mustang nodded, holding the phone to one ear as he sat in his office, "Bring it back, and make sure we keep it contained! The last thing we need right now are people inside the barrier catching radiation sickness!"

He hung up the phone and slouched forward with a sigh, arms outstretched as he thumped his head against the wooden desk with a dull thud.

"That's hardly becoming for a newly promoted officer, sir." Hawkeye stated matter-of-factly as she entered the room with yet another stack of reports "If you need rest you should requisition one of the bunks." Mustang glowered at her from his position at the desk.

"I'll be fine. Besides, there's nothing special about this outcome. I was on the verge of promotion before this mess started and the battle opened several spots. I could probably have gone straight to colonel if I had been paying closer attention to the politics. This is practically a slight if you think about it."

Hawkeye gave him an unimpressed look and dropped several large documents on his desk, making him jerk back upright to protect his hands. Though the Doomsday mech had seemingly retreated, the pockets of destructive chaos they were now terming 'the Unmaking' had not abated. Indeed three times through the night the arbiter's scream had swept through Cevanti, a chilling reminder that Markov had won the battle, not the war. Mustang grabbed the top report, a list of personnel transfers from the post-battle restructuring of the regiments. Losses had been high, but as uneasy as it left him, counting the dead wasn't something had time for right now.

"Anything of particular importance?" He asked Hawkeye as he sorted through the packets.

"We've estimated that about half the city is now in orbit above Markov, including several Cytokine executives. About fifteen percent of those evacuees have since set course for the ARC or other planets. The Pilot's Union is pushing for a victory parade, but Thelonius Rex is vocally decrying such a measure, from orbit of course."

"Of course." Mustang echoed dryly.

"On the topic of the Guild, one of Palaxia's attendants dropped off a transcript of that journal this morning."

Mustang raised an eyebrow, glancing at the hefty envelope that Hawkeye was holding. The wax-sealed emblem of a golden dragon was freshly visible on it.

"Her team works fast! Get Falman to compare it to the copy we made beforehand. If Palaxia is keeping anything secret about this mess I want to know."

"Sir." She nodded, turning to leave.

"Lieutenant," Mustang spoke up, halting her exit, "Make sure we keep that task discrete for now. I put a bit of a spotlight on us with that little stunt, so we want to make sure nobody has a reason to find us suspicious."

Hawkeye nodded then gave Mustang a knowing look.

"Frankly sir, compared to some of the... allies that Markov has acquired within the last couple of hours, I think we'd have to try quite hard to be considered the most problematic elements right now."

"...Right" Mustang ran a hand over his face, glancing towards the former communication unit that Ohm Zui had given him yesterday. It had run out of power sometime during the night, and even some of the physical mechanisms had come apart. Yet with it he had been able to gain access to information rivaling that which had been available on the official channels. The Crystal Ball Array...

"Lieutenant!" Mustang called again, this time stopping Hawkeye as she had almost left the room. She turned back with a look of expectation.

"Yes, Sir?"

"Get me the whereabouts of as many of the newcomers as you can find. We might be able to make use of some of them, and we should keep track on their movements regardless. Markov isn't safe yet, so there's little time to be slacking off."

"Understood, I'll see what I can find."
 

Roy Mustang

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“They’ve gone to ground?” Mustang frowned, glancing over the file as he strode through the corridor to the observation room. This was the trouble with mercenaries and wandering hero types, they showed up out of the blue when things were at their most dire, but the minute pressure backed off they left again. And that meant that you had to clean up after them.

“The vast majority of them, yes Sir.” Lieutenant Hawkeye confirmed with a nod, “None of the mercenaries have caused any significant disturbances that reached our records, and thus far we have not received any demands for payment either. The Crystal Ball Array is still active on a few messaging boards, and undoubtedly the network could easily resurface at a later point, but for all intents and purposes the majority of our players have disappeared as quickly as they arrived.”

“Well that’s incredibly unhelpful news. How the hell are we supposed to make any headway in tracking down the Doomsday mech if all of our pawns have disappeared?” He grumbled, starting up the steps to the observation chamber.

“Perhaps you will need to rely on the tools that are actually at your disposal, sir.” Hawkeye remarked calmly as they entered the observation deck.

The stairs opened up into an elevated room arrayed with monitors and terminals. The far wall and part of the floor were tempered glass sheets, overlooking a sealed off room. The large chunk of metal that Sergeant Havoc’s recovery team had collected from the irradiated zone sat on a raised harness in the center of the room, a few yellow-clad radiation protected figures moved around the room, one was standing on a step ladder attempting to carve off a piece of the metal chunk with a laser cutter. Mustang crossed to the front of the room and pressing a button on the dashboard in front of him.

“Alright, Fuery. Talk to me.” Mustang spoke into the microphone. His voice echoed out from a few speakers on the edges of the room causing Private Fuery to glance up from his laser-cutting and give a mildly startled salute from inside his haz-mat suit.

“Morning, Sir!” Private Fuery replied, climbing down the step-ladder and handing off the tool to one of his compatriots who moved to continue the cut while he delivered a report.

“It’s really something else, Sir!” the technician began, “The plating is so strong, the only reason we’re able to get samples of it off at all is because we can cut it from the inside first! It sort of compresses or absorbs the impact somehow if we just hit the plates dead on, and we can’t make any headway…”

“But we can cut it? That sounds promising.” Mustang mused from the observation room. Private Fuery rubbed the back of his neck.

“I don’t know if its much to be excited about, Sir. We don’t have the tools here to actually be able to reverse engineer anything out of this. I bet Cytokine Industries would have something that could make use of this, but that-“

“-That would require us to surrender this to Aria.” Mustang finished with a grimace. He considered for a moment as Private Fuery began listing off what little information they had been able to gleam from the material themselves.

“Did you know it’s still emitting radiation?” Fuery asked with a chuckle. Mustang blinked, refocusing on the information he was being told.

“I am guessing it shouldn’t be anymore?” he hazarded. Fuery shook his head.

“This is way more than just excess radiation leaking off of it. Either the Doomsday mech was always radioactive, or the metal reacted somehow with Ashe-0’s detonation.” He shrugged, “Frankly Sir, this is higher-level stuff than I’m really familiar with. You might need to call in an expert on this one.”

An expert, eh? Mustang nodded down to Fuery. “Alright, good to know. Dismissed!”

Private Fuery saluted and went back to work, Mustang turned to Lieutenant Hawkeye. She frowned noting a look in his eye.

“I think we need to get that little floating thing to take a look at this.” He stated after a moment, “It claimed to be proficient with defensive technology, and its not an agent of Cytokine’s so there’s a chance that Markov might actually see a benefit out of all this.”

“Sir, just because Ohm Zui came to our aid during the siege does not mean it is a good idea to continue involving them in military business. Now that we’ve averted the crisis people will be watching procedures more closely.” Hawkeye crossed her arms, “but that wasn’t a question, was it?” she added with a touch of fatigue. Mustang grinned at her.

“Afraid not, Lieutenant, but I’ll note your objection.” He turned back to the microphone, activating it again. “Change of plans, Fuery. I need you for a task that should be right up your alley.”
 

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Ohm Zui was tired as they woke up. They had been working nigh on nonstop on the defence strategies for the allied defenders until the conflict had died down. The CBA had wound down as the fighting slowed and members took to sleep. The drones converted to temporary communicators had been slowly petering out, losing charge and ceasing to work.

As they leant back, shifted their goggles and rubbed their eyes with their flagella, their phonic device chimed. “Dewey Alms, Ceo Archive Inc.” Interesting. Ohm raised the phonic device to their nose and answered.

“Ba-zoo! Ohm Zui speaking.”

“Greetings! Am I to understand that you are the technician and figurehead for an information group known as the… CBA?”

“I am.”

“Perfect! I’m calling on behalf of my company, Archive Inc. We’re an independent firm dedicated to preserving the history of Cevanti, and with the historic events over the last forty-eight hours we’re hoping to get access to some of the recordings for our video archives, especially of that enormous mech.”

“That seems reasonable.”

“Thank you! I’ll let you know if we find anything interesting.”

“No problem!”

Ohm Zui gave out a quite ‘zoo-ee’ of exhaustion and headed off to find somewhere to bed down.

After resting, they found a message from Mustang. Intrigued, they replied as exodusAlighted, and set off for the Kingdom base.

---

“I’m telling you Mess, they’ve brought in something crazy.”

Private Message looked across at their counterpart with an arched eyebrow. Quietly, she didn’t disagree with her fellow private, but the two had been posted out here just after the siege had died down and none of those who had been serving on the frontlines had warmed up to the two of them yet: hence them being posted to guard duties on the city facing side of the base.

“Mhm.”

“Mess. Mess, don’t give me that.”

“Mhm?”

“Message, stop it!”

“Mhmmmmmm?”

“Ugh, fine.”

Private Records turned away from her and returned to scanning the street for anything out of place. Message was about to follow suit when their radios crackled to life.

*Private Fuery to City Gate, over.*

She glanced at Records in surprise before lifting the radio in her free hand.

“City Gate copies, over.”

*Civilian guest is expected soon. Name is Ohm Zui, omega hotel mike, zulu uniform indigo. Physical description is three foot tall blue amoeboid being with a green nose, a propellor and goggles. Over.*

“Whose guest? Do you have the authorisation key? Over.”

*Lieutenant Colonel Mustang. Authorisation key should be oscar tango delta five five. Over.*

She punched in the code into the gate systems and was surprised to get a green light.

“Confirmed command. Anything else? Over.”

*Call an escort when they arrive. Over and out.*

The radio went silent and she looked up at Records.

“What was that? What is going on back there?” he asked her.

“Damned if I know Rex.”

---

Ohm returned to the compound as the morning light strengthened, buzzing along the pavement with curiosity nagging at them the entire way. Mustang was reaching out to them, despite clear distrust during the siege, and that meant that there was something interesting going on.

The guards were clearly expecting them, although they didn’t seem to know quite what to make of the zoombini. The zoombini was escorted into the compound, and Ohm prepared themselves for the meeting to come.
 

Tony Stark

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So, this was Cevanti, Tony thought as he looked through the triple-tick glass pane between the passenger cabin and the vacuum of space, down at the planet they were headed towards. Not half bad. Definitely more lush and green than good ol’ Earth. Not as much as Erde Nona though.

He glanced back at Pepper. The two of them, along with about a half-dozen other passengers and the pilot and co-pilot, were the only ones on this spaceship that could probably hold upwards of 10.000 people, maybe twice as much if they cramped things up a bit. Kind of to be expected, since everyone was evacuating from the planet and finding refuge in the other worlds, like Erde. The spaceships acted as buses, bussing load after load of people from Cevanti to other planets, wherever there was room. Some had more space, others not so much.

What was the name again? He took out the pamphlet that he’d gotten his hands on in the Arcadia Spaceport. Kraw. That was the place. A lush jungle at first sight, but really a hungry maw where the entire planet seemed to revolt against civilized life. That was one of the least habitable ones.

They were really fortunate to have landed on Erde Nona, where the spaceships came and went several times a day. On Kraw or… ah, there, on Inverxe, it would’ve taken a week in the worst case. He thought back to that for a moment. They’d come into Arcadia, and Pepper’s quick wit had helped them get into the city and grab snippets of information that they could use to blend in. Lucky for them, the city was quite chaotic given that so many people were coming in, a pair of humans did not stand out. They’d left the bicycles in some corner to rust away if they weren’t stolen or gutted first, and entered the spaceport. It’d taken a lot of talking to first find someone in charge, then convince them that they were intending to go to Cevanti, unlike the hundreds of thousands of people that were fleeing from there.

The problem wasn’t the room, of course - nobody wanted to go there. And there was no cost either, since the spaceships were headed to Cevanti anyway, ferrying one or two more people made no difference to the businesses. But no civilian in their right mind could want to go to a place that was in a literal war. But when they insisted, they were ultimately asked to sign a waiver and told that they’d be allowed in with the next plane along with a handful of “helpers” from some humanitarian organization. And there they were.

“Come to think of it”, he said to Pepper as he put the pamphlet away, “what do we do once we land?”

“I figure we’ll have to play it by ear”, Pepper said, looking up from the newspaper in her hands. “I’m reading up on this Cevanti planet as much as I can. You should too.”

“Already did. The public press doesn’t have a lot of info about this Unmaking crisis and I can’t hack into military networks without a computer.”

“There’s plenty of general information on Cevanti in the leaflet right in front of you. Did you read up on the local fauna, the Zoids?”

“I thought you’ve known me long enough to know that I’m not a biologist but an engineer.”

“Precisely”, Pepper answered and fished out the leaflet from the seat in front of them, then shoved it against his chest. “Read it.”

“You know, I’m still on the fence about whether I like you more or less when you put on the boss bearing.”

Pepper grunted. “Less talking, more reading, Mister Stark.”

Tony hummed and opened the leaflet, skimming over the tourist-y uptalking of the virtues and advantages of the planet they were on. But right as he got to the part of ‘Local fauna’ and saw something that looked like it belonged in a Power Rangers movie rather than the real world, he was interrupted.

“Hey, ‘scuze me Sir. Miss”, a teenage boy said as he came up to them down the aisle from the front side of the spacecraft. He looked like he was trying to cosplay that one mad scientist from the series that people claimed could only be understood by intelligent viewers: a white labcoat that he wore over a dark T-Shirt with some sort of… probably a band name printed on it, a striped tie, dark jeans and sporty shoes.

“I don’t give out autographs today”, he replied and went back to his lecture.

“Autog- you some kinda celeb, man? I just overheard you two jabberin’ about stuff an’ overheard that you’re an engie. You goin’ to Cevanti to fix motors, yeah?”

“Pepper, can you get that kid back to its parents? I’m trying to read here.” He didn’t care about some curious child, not right now.

But the boy decided to draw his attention in other ways, reached over and snagged the leaflet out of his hand. “I’m 19, old man. Will ya listen to me now?”

Tony sighed. “Look, kiddo, I’m not-” he began, then suddenly jerked forward sharply. The boy reflexively reared his head a bit, and Tony slapped his hand against the boy’s from below, which pushed the folded-up leaflet out of his loosened grip. The next moment he had snagged it back, opened it up as if nothing had happened, and looked at the boy with that dad stare that he’d learned when Morgan had turned five. “As I was saying, I’m not in the mood right now. So why don’t you go bother someone else.”

“You’re awful fast for an old guy”, the boy replied with a shit-eating grin. “Anyway, that tourist crap in your hands ain’t worth jack, you can skip reading it.” He leant in as if he was going to share a secret. “I know the real stuff, man. Engie to engie, you read me?”

“I’m not paying you if that’s what you’re after.”

The boy rolled his eyes. “You gonna stop being a douchebag soon or what? I’m just tryin’ to help.” When Tony did not reply, he sighed and stood straight again. “Look man, the Zoids are what’s causin’ all that trouble, yeah. They’re machine lifeforms. Way old, and from at least a Type 1 bunch’o fellas. Maybe Type 2.”

“Kardashev scale, huh? So why do you not know the specifics?”

“Cause they’re gone, man. Wiped out or somethin’. Only the Zoids’s left, yeah. And old tech under all the ruins.”

“And those Zoid things are now attacking Markov”, Tony tugged the subject back on track.

“Damn straight. They’s always been trouble but never gangin’ up like that. The eggheads down there’s thinkin’ someone’s controlling ‘em.”

“Hack the mechanical brain and you’ve got control over the entire body. But the Markovians don’t have that tech or they would’ve done it already. More likely that somebody has found some old tech that lets them control the Zoids”, Tony said. He kept to himself that he was just putting two and two together based on what he already knew. He’d seen the enormous mech when Terry had shown him visions of Cevanti. So either some goon of Darkseid was piloting that mech, or the mech itself was the Arbiter, and Darkseid had unearthed it. And it was likely that the mech had some form of control over the Zoids.

“Hah, so you’re figurin’ it out. So what’s you up to once we land, eh? You with the Kingdom? Cytokine? The Guildies?”

“With whoever’s got a Zoid body down there”, Tony replied simply. “I don’t do politics. Too slow.”

“Hah, I like the cut of your jib, man! Hey, what about…”

He was interrupted by the speakers calling out: “Will all passengers please return to their seats and strap themselves in. We are now in orbit and scheduled to land in twenty minutes.”

“Ah, fuck. I better catch up with the bros. Hey man, Tony yeah? Was swell talkin’ to you. I’ll catch ya later!” He did some finger guns at them while walking backwards down the corridor. Tony hummed as he fastened the belt around his waist.

“So, what’s that about Cytokine and a Guild?” he nonchalantly asked Pepper.

“Cytokine Industries, the local tech giant”, Pepper rattled off calmly. “And the Guild, a sort of trading conglomerate that came from the merger of the Merchant and Mages Guilds. There’s also the Kingdom of Palatinus, the ruling power in Markov, and the Pilots Union, an expeditionary military force under the umbrella of the kingdom.”

“About how giant are we talking for Cytokine?”

“Hard to say. They supply practically all the tech that isn’t imported for Markov, but that’s just one city. On the other hand, it’s the single city on the planet.”

“Exports?”

“No mention of either Cytokine or the Guild, though the tourist pamphlets make it sound like the level of tech varies pretty wildly from planet to planet, and each one has their own dominant powers. There’s no overreaching group spanning more than one planet either.”

“Not yet, anyway”, Tony remarked. “Was that all in the leaflet you read?”

“The leaflets, plural”, Pepper remarked and pointedly nodded towards the compartment on the back of the seat in front of her, which had at least a dozen tourist guides, magazines, on-flight shopping catalogues and other such items. “As well as reading between the lines and connecting the dots.”

“Where’d you even find some of those?”

“People leave their trash behind on their plane seats all the time, Tony. You’re no exception, by the way. You forgot your wallet on the plane fourteen times in the last year, for instance.”

“That was my private jet, I can forget my items on there!” Tony remarked, then curled his forehead into a frown. “You didn’t pick up any wallets on this flight, did you?”

Pepper sighed annoyedly. “I turned them into the Lost and Found at the front of the plane, Tony. I wanted information, not to steal people’s money.”

“You know they’ll probably just wind up in some lower manager’s pocket, right?”

“I thought you were the one being a hero and flaunting your morals.”

As they continued bickering, they had little idea that the young man in a labcoat had taken out his smartphone after sitting on a vacant chair for the landing, and was hastily typing away on the digital keyboard while the bar under a tiny photograph of Tony filled up. Upload complete, picture has been attached, message written, hit Send. exodusAlighted would be very interested in this guy.



--CEVANTI SURFACE, ca. 12 hours after the withdrawal of the Zoid forces--


Halen knew better than to lean back and relax just yet. Though the assault on Markov had been repelled for now, the Zoids were sure to come back in full force. That was why they had only gotten a little rest to refuel and repair their Aerial Combat Suit load in new armaments, replacing the antimatter bombs with less destructive ground-targeted seeker missiles, and been flown out to eliminate any stragglers on the battlefield and report the positions of stranded Markov forces for medivac teams to come fetch them.

It felt like ages ago that they had only narrowly avoided getting blown up by the aerial Zoids that they had engaged in dogfights, even though according to the clock on the display before her it was only 5 hours past. Their work now, floating over the battlefield firing short salvoes of tankbuster cannon rounds into any Zoid or Akata on the ground that so much as twitched, felt like a walk in the park compared to the adrenaline-filled hours prior to that.

“-- anyone read me? This is Private [fzzzt]ing response! Rep[krrk] you read me?”

Another straggler? Halen reached for the button, but Carver stopped her. “I’m on it. You take care of the remaining targets on the ground.” Then he pressed a button. “This is Lieutenant Nathan Carver, Pilots Union of Markov. If you can hear us, switch to channel frequency 115.9.”

A fizzle responded, then the much clearer voice responded. “This is Private Collins, we heard you. Do you read now?”

“Loud and clear. What’s your coordinates? We’ll have a medivac to your position in five minutes.”

“Ah… negative, Sir. I’m the only one left alive and I was crushed by a block of concrete… everything below my waist is gone, I’m not gonna last through an evac.”

“Shit… how do you sound so calm?”

“Adrenaline shots, Sir. Listen, this is urgent: I’ve uncovered very important information that must be passed to Markov command! We pried a data disk out of one of the Zoids before it self-destructed. It’s got crucial information on it - I’ve been keeping myself alive until I can pass it on but I don’t know how much longer I’ll last!”

“Crucial information? What’s it say?”

“There’s just one file, Sir. It read as follows: Loneliness plus alienation plus fear plus despair…”

Halen felt a cold chill run down her spine as she heard those words over the speakers. She slammed her hand on her console, hitting the button to turn off the radio, but Carver’s higher rank meant that his console could not be controlled by hers.

“Lieutenant!” she yelled. “Turn the comms off!” Then she tried to cover her ears, remembering the next moment that she was wearing a pilot helm and could not reach her ears beneath the solid plastic. It was too closely pressed against her ears for her to slip her hands beneath, so she struggled as best as she could to open the strap and tear it off.

“... multiplied by judgement n equals y where y equals hope…” the monotone voice spoke on the other side.

Carver frowned. “What is this message supposed to mean? Explain yourself.” He too felt a strange unease creeping up on him but some mixture of curiosity and obligation towards the dying man on the ground kept him from hitting the button that’d interrupt the transmission. That was what became his undoing.

On the ground, far below them, Private Collins spoke into the radio before him, finishing his message: “... life equals death and self equals dark side.” Then he paused.

“... we understand”, Carver’s monotone response came from the speaker part of the radio. “What is His command?”

“Return. Blend in. When you’ve the chance, spread the message in His name. Prioritize armed forces. When the time comes, He will command us again.”

“Understood. We will return now.”

Using his perfectly-fine legs Collins stepped out from inside the half-destroyed skyscraper from where he was broadcasting his fake distress call and watched as the aerial mech-like combat unit turned around and set its course back to Markov. As he turned back to reset the broadcast frequency and bait in the next target, he stepped over the bodies his comrades. They had escaped corruption and he had been forced to kill them. Three losses. It could not be changed. It did not matter. The Unmaking would take Markov, if not as a powerful attack from the outside, then as a corrupting poison from within.

For the unaware, the Anti-Life Equation is a DC thing that Darkseid uses to control anyone who hears it. You can look it up on the Google.
 

Roy Mustang

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Mustang hurried down the hallway back to his office, glancing briefly through the headlines of the first civilian news report since the siege was declared over. They were hailing the day as a triumph. The oversimplification galled him slightly, but they really had no alternative. People were scared, most of those with the means to do so had left during the siege, and it took a greedy or desperate soul to come back to a planet that was actively in the process of tearing itself to pieces. The weather was looking more and more unstable as it was, and the storms were pushing insect populations out of their usual habitats, if they could even believe their scanners with the radiation residue clinging to everything west of the barrier! Damn, they were on a short clock, here! This place was far from fixed yet, whatever The kingdom’s official statement might say.

He frowned at a pop headline about the champion of the latest interplanetary death game being sighted in Markov. He settled into his chair with a grunt, pain stitching its way up his left side where his lung had been punctured by a close range nail gun. The accumulation of too-recently healed injuries continued to remind him that he was overreaching. He was doing too much, too fast. Yet somehow, not enough that he could afford to slow down. None of them could. Havoc and Breda were still out in the irradiated sectors, their cleanup crews continuing to sift for any scrap or sign that could be key to their survival. Fuery was doing his best to understand just how the Doomsday mech was putting out so much radiation. His hand strayed to a printout copy of the document Falman was investigating even now.

Thus far it seemed that Palaxia was dealing evenly with them, despite her Guild affiliations. Falman’s over-reliance on protocols left him an expert at following precise wording and details with an impressive degree of attention. Thus far he had yet to encounter any modification or censorship in the copy that Palaxia’s attendant had provided them following the siege. Mustang steepled his hands on the desk in front of him, glancing across the empty room as he considered the gold dragon’s position in the array. She was clearly loyal to King Dulamare, a powerful card in the man’s hand that allowed him to keep the peace in Markov. Yet she also seemed to act independently to the King’s counsels. Could Mustang rely on her as a source of information in the future, or would it be prudent to limit his contact only to details relating to the Unmaking specifically? He reached over, drumming his fingers on the document as he weighed just how large a mistake he had made in speaking with them all so brazenly during the siege.

---​

Lieutenant Riza Hawkeye stood at attention, waiting as Ohm was escorted into the facility. She saluted to the somewhat confused pair of privates who accompanied the zoombini inside.

“I’ll take it from here.” She nodded at them both, they saluted back, heading back to their post without complaint. The zoombini pivoted in the air, noting their departure, then floated over towards Hawkeye.

“Zoo, I must say, this is quite a bit of pomp and circumstance!” Ohm chuckled, and Hawkeye offered them a sympathetic smile as they began to travel down the hallway.

“Yes, I’m afraid we have to be a bit on ceremony here. Markov is a thriving town, but it was a delicate balancing act even before the siege, and we’ve found it better to be guard without reason then to be caught unawares. That preparedness is the only reason the city didn’t fall. The Lieutenant Colonel’s office is on the fourth floor…” Hawkeye slowed down, almost stopping in front of the elevator. She glanced back at the Ohm’s floating form, brow furrowing slightly.

“…but it might be for the best if we take the stairs.” She finished, picking up her pace slightly.

“Eheh, uh… Lieutenant colonel?” Ohm asked, “Zoo-ie! A major no longer then.” It was difficult to tell whether the second sentence sought confirmation, or was merely a statement, but Hawkeye nodded as they began to ascend the stairs. The floating mechanist propelling themselves alongside the Lieutenant as she rounded the first flight at a quick and measured pace.

“Correct. The Lieutenant Colonel’s actions during the Siege were deemed important to our force’s survival of the battle.” She glanced over to Ohm with a smile, “Although there’s been no official word on the involvement of the… independent forces that aided our defense, we saw the work you did to organize our defensive forces. We owe you greatly for the aid, you saved many lives. If you find yourself in need of shelter or aid, consider reaching out to the Lieutenant Colonel. He certainly wasn’t blind to the significance of your efforts.”

The floating engineer’s large eyes blinked, and they nodded as Lieutenant Hawkeye reached the fourth floor. They stopped outside a wooden door, marked with the crest of Palatinus. Hawkeye opened the door, stepping into the room. Mustang sat behind his desk, a pile of ignored paperwork in his inbox as he lounged in his chair. He was staring out the window behind him with his chin propped on one arm, idly clicking an ink pen at arrhythmic intervals. All of Mustang’s squad were out on assignment, leaving the set of desks as empty as the pair of couches at the far end of the room.

Hawkeye saluted, then coughed pointedly as she moved into the room. Mustang blinked quickly, glancing at the pair who had just entered with mild interest.

“Ah!” The ink pen clicked once more, then fell silent. Mustang swung his chair around to face the zoombini but did not sit up immediately. Hawkeye offered Ohm a seat on one of the couches, smiling faintly when they settled down on one of the arms, then took up her position, standing at attention to the side of the room.

“Ohm Zui, wasn’t it?” Mustang asked, then continued without waiting for a reply, “Excellent job during the siege! Did you know that, with the assistance of Cytokine and the Pilot’s Union, the Kingdom of Palatinus monitors every sector within twelve miles of the barrier, inside and out? It’s frankly a ludicrous amount of information! We assumed that it would be beyond sufficient for Markov’s needs. After all, who are you expecting will attack when you’re the only city on the planet?”

Mustang dropped his propped leg to the ground, sitting up straighter in the chair.

“And yet! It wasn’t our arrays that kept us informed of the state of the battlefield, but your…” He shrugged after searching for a better word for a moment “Crowdfunded network of volunteers that had the clearest picture among all of us! You made yourself indispensable in a matter of moments and didn’t even ask for any concessions when you had us… well quite plainly when we had little room to negotiate.”

Ohm’s goggled eyes narrowed slightly, and they waved a flagellum in a dismissive manner.

“Ba zoo, I’m not here for an ego stroking. I can tell when I’m being flattered.”

Mustang shrugged, resting his arms back on his chair with an easy smirk.

“I only wanted you to realize the impression you’ve made. There’s quite a lot of commotion going on in central HQ right now, lots of high-ranking officers with new commands and responsibilities, not to mention the whole damn world is falling apart around our ears. For the moment, people aren’t paying much attention to the fact that an anonymous collection of users were so quickly able to gain access to massive amounts of classified information about both the Guild and the Pilot’s Union. I’m sure the fallout that will change once one of our lovely associates decides to take advantage of this chaos. Hell, If I were part of the Guild this would be a prime opportunity to stick one to the Fly boys with an airtight alibi.”

Mustang’s smirk vanished and he leaned forwards, propping his elbows on the desk in front of him. “I won’t presume to tell someone who survived the Unmaking of an entire system how to look out for themselves, but I know this city well enough that I understand how thin a line you’re treading here. If you plan to stay within Markov’s reach after this immediate crisis passes you will need to plan your next movements carefully, Ohm.”

“I did not think you were one for theatrics, Lieutenant Colonel.” Ohm replied evenly, “Did you have a purpose for this meeting aside from applying pressure?”

Mustang shrugged again, reaching into a drawer of his desk, pulling out a stack of papers, he separated a picture from the front of the bundle, sliding it towards the front of the desk so Ohm could see from their perch. A large chunk of once-molten metal sat at the center of the pictured room, various restraints holding it upright and in place.

“Absolutely! I have some work that I think would be quite suited for your talents. In fact, I’d prefer to keep this task off the official record until we know exactly what we’re dealing with. My men are good, but this technology is more advanced than anything we currently have in Markov, and I’m not about to hand it over to Cytokine if I can help it. Frankly, without your help we’ll have to dispose of the thing. We don’t have the resources or manpower to spare on a lengthy reverse engineering.”

Mustang leaned forwards again, holding his hands in front of him with a furrowed brow.

“We believe it’s a piece of the Doomsday mech. Determining the location of which is my number one priority at this moment. It’s my hope that a mechanically inclined expert like you would be able to develop some means of tracking down this thing for us. In exchange, I’ll do what I can to make sure the fallout of the CBA, whenever it comes, is as mild as possible overall. In particular, I’ll steer it in such a way that it doesn’t endanger your activities.” He smirked slightly, “After all, you’re not actually planning to overthrow the government, right?”

“In fact, I can offer you a bit more.” He held up another bundle of pages, still watching Ohm Zui closely. “The Lieutenant discovered this document, detailing a collection the Cult of the Unmaking’s beliefs and methodologies. Given that you fled from an Unmade world to one that is in the process of it, you may find the information inside of it pertinent to your goals.”

He set the packet of pages down on the table next to the picture, looking at Ohm expectantly.

“What is your answer, Ohm Zui? Do we have an equivalent exchange?”
 

Lord Zedd

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Machines and bodies littered the already desolate wastelands outside of Markov. The cleanup crews worked diligently, though many of the workers were more concerned with salvaging useful items and finding survivors than they were with actual removal of destroyed items. After all, beautification had been low on Cevanti’s priority list even before repelling the apocalypse. The results of the battle were grim, and even those that survived had no other choice than to hope the excavation teams would dig them up.

There was one who would not wait.

A metal coated hand burst from the ashen covered ground, like an undead monster coming back to life to torment the world. Yet this monster refused to die, through sheer anger and defiance of the natural order alone. The hand grasped around, finally finding a fragment ripped off a zoid in the combat and pulled against the weight.

Lord Zedd ripped himself from the depths of a desolate graveyard spawned from yet another battle in his long life. This one was different, however. He was used to surveying the ruins he had caused, and only in the past few years had he become accustomed to the concept of defeat. He didn’t like it, and he counted this morbid experience as another loss.

The gargantuan husk of metal and flayed skin observed as he was swiftly surrounded by soldiers aiming their weapons at him. The reaction was understandable to even the impatient overlord, as he certainly looked nothing like any of their allies. They looked ready to open fire at a second’s notice, yet Zedd did not flinch at the sight. Like everything enough it was just familiar enough to bore him, yet frustrating he somehow lacked his ability to obliterate the problem with a simple handwave.

“Identify yourself!” the presumed leader of the squad announced.

Normally Zedd would be happy to educate the peons of who they spoke too, but he had grown tired of doing it so often in such a short timeframe. Therefore, he made the decision to steer the conversation elsewhere.

“Tell me where that oversized mechanical monstrosity went,” Zedd barked right back.

The soldiers shifted uncomfortably.

“It retreated,” the squad leader quickly replied. “Are you with it?”

“I will destroy it for it’s slight against me,” Zedd answered as he stared directly at the man who spoke to him.

The man rested a little, and the others moved their weapons to a low ready position.

“It ruined a lot of people’s lives,” the squad leader agreed, taking a longing glance at the carnage.

“I care about none of them,” Zedd was quick to dispel any notions of camaraderie with these weaklings. “I will end this menace, but for my own benefit.”

The squad stared blankly for a moment, assessing this strange individual. He was angry, clearly sadistic, and would kill them all if the opportunity was right. Yet he was as desperate as the rest of this dead world. If he hated them so intently, but wanted to kill their greatest threat just as much, they would be happy to oblige his madness.

“He went that way,” the squad leader said after a pause, pointing towards the dead wastes.

Zedd growled as he looked in the direction of his prey. Somewhere out there was his newest and greatest foe, licking its wounds. Zedd refused to tolerate it. He brushed through the rank and file of Markov in pursuit of his objective. They allowed him through with zero resistance, but looked to their leader just the same. He was already on his radio.

“Headquarters, this is Captain Searle,” the squad leader announced into his coms. “You might want to know about this guy...”
 
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