Aldrich noted that though Seismic was largely a stoic man, there was something in the way that he so very violently balled up his fist as he talked about punching a hole through Shrimp that made it very clear that within Seismic, there were violent tendencies unbefitting of a 'proper' hero.
But then again, as Aldrich deeply knew, there were so very few proper heroes out there anyway.
"Good to see you all ready to fight, but before that, I need you to tell the Panopticon drone fleet to stand down," said Aldrich. A good chunk of my forces are variants I've placed under my control, and the Bugs are targeting them.
A rank heroes can directly order around Panopticon responses all the way up to class 2, can't they?" said Aldrich.
Seismic nodded. "Not exactly. But I can force the drones to link me with a Connector. There, I should have enough authority to submit direct requests."
"Then we'll do that. Up," he said, directing Crow to move.
Crow's six eyes blinked in recognition before he flapped his huge wings, sending Aldrich and Seismic hurtling far up. They reached the skies over the battlefield in seconds, and there, Aldrich got a glimpse of the Class 5 drone response.
Thousands of Bugs were around the battle zone, firing their weapons and raining down their explosives on fishmen. They slaughtered the fishmen in droves, but the only reason these drones could do so much in the first place was because Aldrich had carved the way for them.
Aldrich had taken out the storm.
He had taken out all the air troops.
He had disabled the sea anemones and wiped out the mermen.
That left only the blue fishmen on the ground capable of hitting airborne targets, and they were a pitiful anti air measure compared to the flying fish, manta rays, mermen, and the living storm.
If the entire variant army had been left alone, this drone response would have been crushed in half an hour at most. No, they would have gotten shut down by the storm once it started to focus its EMP emissions.
This, Aldrich kept in mind. He could not let the Panopticon take any real credit for this battle.
As Aldrich thought this, several dozen drones surrounded Crow as Aldrich commanded him to hover in a stationary position. The drones pointed their red dot eyes towards Aldrich, their weapons bared out in menacing fashion.
"Stop," said Seismic, his voice resonating with authority.
"Identifying…," A cold, deep, mechanical voice emerged from a drone as it went up to Seismic, and its red eye projected out a scanning beam that washed over Seismic's face. "A- class hero Seismic identified.
Grade 1 clearance registered.
Disengaging weapons systems."
"Get me to a Connector. Now." Said Seismic.
"Your request is approved. Linking to source Connector…," began the drone as its red eye turned green and started to blink rapidly, establishing a connection.
Connectors, as far as Aldrich was aware, were higher up Panopticon members that could direct and, if needed, manually operate drone responses.
They operated in giant floating mechanical structures known as Pillars that acted as mobile factories and hubs from which Panopticon drones were stored and sent out.
"Connector #443 linked. Now transferring communications," said the drone. After a few seconds, its green glowing eye turned blue, indicating that a Connector had taken manual control over it.
"Connector #443 here," came a tired woman's voice. "Normally, I would listen to your request, A class hero Seismic, but I want to preface this by saying that we have no reinforcements to send.
For now, this is as much you're going to get, and if you want me to manually control anything, I'm afraid I'm already multi-tasking my attention with cleanup on the Neo-York attack.
I'm sorry, but if you want a higher fleet response-,"
"I don't care about reinforcements," said Seismic.
"Oh, I see." The Connector's voice remained tired. "I'm assuming Haven's been overrun already, then. Do you need me to withdraw this response?"
"No. Do your job and take a look at what's happening," said Seismic.
The Connector sighed. "Fine. I do have to listen to you A rankers anyhow. Let's see…
The Connector's voice grew from tired to surprised in a single instant.
"What are those things? And…and are those variants fighting against the fishmen? That giant thing, are those, like…knights? They look straight out of a game! And what's that black smoke?
And hold up, the storm…you guys have disabled the storm on your end? Wait, wait, wait, I don't understand any of this!"
"You don't have to," said Seismic. His tone was serious. Curt. He did not ever say any more than what he needed to. "All you need to do is what I say. I'm fighting with an ally that can control those variants.
Have your Bugs stand down."
"What? An ally?" The drone turned to see Aldrich. It projected out a scanning beam that washed over his form of bone and metal and blood from head to toe. "This guy isn't in the WWA (Worldwide Alter) database! No, scratch that, I can't even get a proper read on him to begin with!
It's like he's a Dud or something - he's obviously concealing his powers. As per Panopticon Procedural #44A, I can't authorize-,"
"Are we really going to be debating procedure?" said Seismic. "Do you have that much time and that many lives to waste?"
"…" A pause from the Connector. Then a sigh. "Okay, I understand. I'll go ahead and authorize your request, but the thing is, now that I'm manually checking on the C5 drones and seeing through them, I can't tell that there's anything different between the ones he controls and the fishmen.
There's no Alter energy signature like the kind you'd expect to see from Variants under Alter control."
"Then you'd better go ahead and keep an eye on your drones, shouldn't you? To make sure they don't hit your allies?" said Aldrich in a warning voice.
"…" The Connector sighed again. Though her face was not visible, just the tiredness in her voice and her sighs made it very clear that she was probably having quite the sleepless night. "Okay, yeah, I can do that.
I'll just make them not attack anything with, let's see, uh, a green aura thing. That might leave the greenscale fishmen alive, is that alright?"
"We can handle those. I appreciate the cooperation," said Aldrich.
"Then I'm going to close this channel. You better explain all this in your report, Seismic," said the Connector has her voice cut off with a crackle.
The drone projecting her voice turned its eye back to its usual red color before it flew away, back to the battlefield.
"Now then, it's about time we head back to what's important," said Aldrich as he stared towards the battle site.
"Yes," said Seismic simply.
"Land us down there," said Aldrich as he stared at Crab's giant corpse. Though by now, Crab had receded from its peak size of ten meters all the way down now to five. Atop Crab's back was Valera as she waved her hands towards Aldrich happily.
Crow shot downwards in a swooping arc, and at the bottom of it, Aldrich and Seismic both got off, landing atop Crab's corpse.
"Master! You're safe!" said Valera as she bowed to Aldrich.
"Of course, I am," said Aldrich. "Oh, and I was about to say this before these bots rudely cute me off, but good job, Valera. You're proving to me just how capable you are."
Valera squirmed in happiness under her brutal armor of red and spiked black metal. "It was a little new to be commanding forces, but I feel like I have the hang of it."
"As long as it involves fighting, it seems like you have a talent for it," said Aldrich. "How's the rest of the fight going? I imagine with Crab gone, the rest of this variant army should have no chance."
"Indeed. These monsters are on their last legs. All the ground they had covered at the start of this night is gone. No, they are now on the very cusp of defeat," said Valera as she motioned around her.
Aldrich's undead forces were fully pushing back the variants now, especially with the Panopticon's Bugs swarming and destroying the fodder, equalizing the numbers difference between his Legion and the variant army somewhat.
Under a hailstorm of gunfire, missile fire, slashing swords, giant blows, explosions, toxic gas, acid, and countless other manner of attacks, the variants had no chance, not with their leaders killed.
"I must say, these 'mechs' are quite capable. Worth the annoyance that they initially were then they dawned upon this site of our battle," said Valera. "But I worry about that one. The strong one. It is yet alive, no?"
"It is," said Aldrich. "And we need to start preparing for it. For now-," Aldrich made sure to check again that Shrimp's energy signature still remained underground. There it was: a large orb of white tracked in Aldrich's vision by Volantis's keen energy sensing. "We clean up the variants as much as we can while I get ready.
First thing's first-,"
Aldrich knelt down and put a hand on Crab's cracked, dulled, lifeless shell… "Serve."