Description: In the weeks before NESTS embarked on its campaign of high school hijinx, Igniz called one of the Cartel's top men back home from a remote assignment to introduce him to its new form--and his. This is what happened...
The ride up to NESTS' orbital base is a pretty long one, and it doesn't help that Zero has nothing to do in the back of his stealth shuttle but review the letter in his hands.
'Our father has passed. Preliminary forecasts suggest that all projects should be able to continue as scheduled indefinitely, barring a significant shift in top-level policy. Please peruse the enclosed charts and figures below for discrepencies...'
Calling it a 'letter' might actually be something of a stretch; his clone is a fine administrator and one hell of a moustache-grower, but emotive writing is not one of his talents. Still: it's the only record that he has of Nests' unfortunate passing, and he took great pains to preserve it and the envelope it came in as he wound down the rest of his stay in Antarctica. As assignments go, it was cold, remote, desolate; it wasn't until he received that--message that it began to feel confining, though. He couldn't get himself aboard a shuttle back to the orbital base quickly enough when his stay finally ended, and the long trip back only magnified his anxiety.
Still, he's composed when the shuttle eventually docks with the base and allows him to disembark. The soft clinking of his bladed skirt fills the station as he navigates its corridors, picking out the path to the quarters of NESTS' new--old--undisputed? Leader. He's tense beneath his outward calm; it isn't as if he'd never imagined a world without Nests, but now that he's free of Antarctica, he actually has to face the reality of it.
Hopefully, Igniz is adjusting to the change well; he has a whole legacy on his shoulders now, after all.
The massive NESTS facility is truly one of the technological marvels of the world, signifying the advancements of the cartel as well as it's financial power. Not only is it capable of unique experimentations due to the zero gravity, but it is almost completely impossible to infiltrate or assault... and those who enter can find it almost impossible to leave. A promotion to the orbital building is permanent. Every single NESTS ground facility is considered completely expendable, which is why the constant actions of the 'detractors' has never caused any meaningful alarm.
Indeed, the latter was one of the more alarming incidents to happen that Zero had reported by his clone. Only a few months after NESTS passed away, insurgent groups of escaped operatives began attacking the cartel. That had never happened in decades with Nests himself, who was a long-term and subtle investigator; those who were experiments like Vanessa had no idea, and those who were modified like Maxima were held impregnably... Cloning was considered 'poor science' by Nests, who believed only in true, organic research over half a century for results.
Suffice to say, the current agenda of the Cartel goes against everything Zero embraced now. False Kusanagi-blooded created and dying by the literal hundreds, ethical torture and genocide by most analysis, treated like branded cattle without so much as a name. Some answers on that might be desired.
All reports from the clone stated that Nests died suddenly in the company of Misty and Igniz. The ungodly medical team intervened within minutes to no avail. Nests believed in a 'soul', and thus refused to store his brain information in a clone. Igniz shares the same belief of sorts, but it means he is irrevocably gone... given how detached operations were from the ruling hands, it is believed only 5 to 10 percent of NESTS are aware Igniz is the new head, despite the massive change in theological direction.
Shortly after slithering down the halls near the main throne room, a slinky vixen in white with trimmed black approaches; Misty.
Igniz is not who Zero would respect. For decades he watched and helped the Cartel with a genuine drive that Zero shared. They had not been close... Igniz always seemed to be in his own cloud, as if his sight was on something nobody else could see... but they were true colleagues, along with Nests.
But this insidious female has set off alarm bells left and right. The clone has evidence, although completely lacking in weight, she has done unscrupulous things for the last ten years. How she got hired is a mystery. Nests never revealed it, and asked to let it be. Before Zero left, she had begun getting awful close to Igniz -- the first person ever to, including Nests -- and the rumor mill was churning about salacious activities...
"Zero." she states. "Or should I say 'True Zero'? You are an impressive man as always. To remain until the end of your station, even with the passing of the Father." Arms loosely cross beneath her chest, and a minkish motion slithers her about to walk towards the huge doors at the end of the metallic hall. A massive centrifuge keeps gravity at normal levels in the middle 75 percent, with only the outermost edges gradually lowering in gravity for experimentation.
"It was his final directive to me," Zero replies after freezing. Some of the tension he's feeling bleeds into his posture as he crosses his arms over his armored chest; at no point do his eyes leave Misty. She was an outlier to the Cartel's designs in his mind, a variable that had yet to be fully reckoned with; still, his tone is more or less sincere as he adds, "Truth be told: it was a good place for mourning. I wanted more than anything to be here and share the pain of this loss with you and Igniz, but knowing that I was fulfilling one of his last wishes made the sacrifice bearable."
He follows her to the doors and has to unball his hands after a couple of steps; following a slow exhale, the outward discomfort is mostly gone. After having spent the intervening time wrestling with the decision to stay or go, it's something of a sore subject. "How have you been, since...? You're looking well, as ever," he says, trying to move past it.
"How has /He/ been?" Igniz, of course--the man with whom he has a troubling number of irregular reports to discuss. "I'm not sure how close they were, but surely the news was difficult for him."
"Lord Igniz is strong, as always." Misty states, firmly. Lord? Certainly a strange moniker. Nests called himself 'Father', but it was not meant to be something that put him above anyone else. More an indication he was the patriarch of the cartel, and all were his family. "He has been waiting his entire life in the shadow of Father, and can now finally stretch his wings..."
She continues her saunter, moving to the side of the door and pressing a few buttons. "I worked with him a long time. Of course I mourned." This is stated in a detached manner, but she has always been impassive and professional. "But I know he would have wanted the Cartel to look ever forward..."
The smile that spreads across her lips is like a cheshire, as the great doors slowly roar open. A great, massive court of sorts is revealed. Tall metal pillars curve about the roof, heavy glass showing the endless solar system. Only here are artificial gravity generators active, of a sort. Rather than science fiction, special clothing and shoes are required to walk about unhindered. One gets used to it quickly, and similar technology allows many scientists to operate their experiments. By now, Zero likely does not notice it.
And upon the huge throne is Igniz, clad in black. His hood is up, pulled over his features to show only wisps of silver bangs and his chin. He seems to be in a meditative trance, but...
The clone said nothing of this. The energy readings that scream into Zero's suit are off the charts. Igniz is covered in a warm, almost soothing aura glowing about him. It has strange undertones to it, a couple wavelengths that Zero's own systems are not yet familiar with. When Zero left three years ago, he was assuredly the strongest military power. Igniz had never cared for fighting, after all.
Now... how could so much have changed in so little a time?
Misty does not follow, the doors shifting to close behind Zero once he enters. "Approach." Igniz states, voice ringing deep and authoritative. Never before has he ever given Zero a command. He had always been the second and Zero the third, but for countless years treated the other man as a peer, even one he looked up to. "It is good to see you well. Your second has accommodated nicely. He has been spending quite a bit of time with Misty in the last year."
"But I prefer the original. Much has changed since you left. I hope to bring you up to date with full expedience."
'Waiting in the shadow of Father'? Zero's expression turns sour; who would Igniz - who would /any/ of them - be without Nests?
"Eager for independence, eh?" he gruffly replies as he pauses before the doors. "Our Father had a beautiful vision for the world; was he unhappy with dreaming of new ways to see it through? Hm. I'm sure that we'll have quite the future to look forward to, now that he's finally free of Father's constraints."
When the doors open, it's as if they were holding back a wave. Red light flickers in one of Zero's eyes as his sensors explode with data--an unsettling amount of which verges on worthless, at least in this moment. Rings of protective chi ripple across the surface of his suit when he actually enters the chamber; they're an automatic response to the alarm-inducing levels of power that Igniz is generating.
How could his clone have failed to notice /this/?
He'd actually stopped a short ways into the chamber, unable to resist the urge to double-check some of the readings he's getting. They /can't/ be right, and yet--he's looking right at them. Until Igniz tells him to approach, that is, at which point he tilts his head up so that he's looking at what little he can see of Igniz's face. It takes a moment more spent staring up at his compatriot and listening to the dying echoes of that voice before he actually complies, his shocked expression turning into a frown.
He stops just short of the throne, where he folds his arms over his chest to listen to the rest of what his new Lord has to say, and the frown remains in place throughout. Once he's able to reply, he says, "Please, I'm all ears," while spreading his hands before himself. "My clone did admirably, but some of his reports--certainly, they must have been in error. I welcome the opportunity to clear up some of the discrepancies; the numbers I saw coming out of the cloning programs alone..." Sweeping his arms down, he eventually clasps his hands behind his back as he shakes his head and clicks his tongue.
"Troubling," is the best word he can assign to it. "Nevermind the security breaches..."
There is no response from the woman until the bladed figure is already striding forward. "What do you know?" Misty states, undeterred. "You are a follower, Zero. A man who lives attaching to another. A symbiote, and nothing else. Merely because everyone is not content with stagnation... does not mean that they love the cartel any less." It is difficult to tell if Misty is speaking for herself or for Igniz -- or even for both -- but this is spoken at the critical threshold where the conversation is ended as the door slithers shut.
"I never once met with your clone." Igniz states simply. "Misty handled everything. I had no interest in speaking with a ghost of you. An inferior being would only make me think less of the image of you which burns in my mind." Slowly Igniz lifts his head, the hood swirling through the force generated from his energy in the zero gravity. Beautiful as always, and still he wears that distance gaze, one which Nests spoke in private as a point of pride; a boy who can see the future, beyond even himself, and will do what it takes to reach it.
But now, when it drops down to Zero, it is clear... that his heights are ones alone. It cannot be called arrogance, precisely. Such is insulting to behold. But... there is a sense of being appraised as a lesser, unbiased, untainted by personal opinion, as factual as a cat peering down at a mouse.
"Father died of an aneurysm." This time, it's spoken of familiarly. Not a name, but referencing his flesh and blood. "For all of our careful genetic screening and longevity treatments, he should have been hale for another thirty years. Instead he died. He stared too intensely at too small a part of the world. I cannot commit to the same long-reaching methodology as he did. For you see..."
Igniz gestures around. "We are now it. I have no child. You are barely younger than me. When we die, there is none to past the Cartel to. ...So we must manage within our lifetimes. That means... certain accelerations. Nests had some strange viewpoints on the afterlife. ...I know you do not share them. Your second is proof enough."
Misty's parting words burn in Zero's ears as Igniz's face is revealed. If the readings he's getting are what independence earns, then Igniz is doing a good job of making it look attractive; he can only imagine the type of progress he could make, given a taste of that power. Of course, if the reports are anything to go by... the question of what he'd even be progressing /towards/ at that point would surely arise.
His skirt billows around him as Igniz speaks. Learning that he and the clone never actually crossed paths is--not actually all that surprising, in hindsight; he was always something of an introvert. When the cause of death is revealed, his features fall and he bows his head; such a random, ordinary end to such a brilliant life.
A waste, really, and it only seems to be leading to /more/ waste.
"It needn't end with us," he posits as he raises his head to meet Igniz's gaze again. "We've raised up generations of operatives; surely, some of them - /one/ of them, even - could be groomed to carry on our work. I'm just as eager as you are to see the great design through to the end, but we have to take care: there's no telling what damage we could do to its long-term integrity at this pace." Now that he's on the subject, his volume actually begins to rise as the shock and frustration he's had to swallow these last years finally has a chance to bubble forth.
"There are certain of Father's beliefs that I did not entirely agree with - certain degrees of purity that I could not quite reconcile myself with - but there is quite a gulf /indeed/ between my willingness to explore methodologies that he wouldn't and weakening the Cartel as a whole by burning through its resources and forgetting the core of what it was built to achieve!"
Once his objection is registered, he releases a slow sigh and his face softens somewhat. "It is a tragedy; he had so much left to do. The Cartel is his legacy--/we/ are his legacy; I just couldn't accept knowing that we came close to honoring it, only to be brought low by our desperation to succeed."
"There are two people I trust." Igniz states calmly. "You, and Misty. All others would turn this into a machine of profit. NESTS has always been about the advancement and evolution of humanity. Nests was a living example of the success. He was a strong warrior, but also a brilliant mind of which there may have been no equal alive. However... what he lacked was the ability to be a ruler."
Igniz gestures, and a number of sleek holographic screens appear about Zero. Countless reports of experimentations. Information on the number of people working within NESTS. It seems that Igniz has increased the number of scientists by 40 percent in two years, and in terms of capability there's no hint at all they are lacking. ...What they lack in other areas is another matter. Nests had been incredibly picky about who he welcomed into the fold.
And there's likely a couple dozen scientists that Zero knows personally. Good men of good morals. If he were to peruse one of the lists, only three remain...
"Foxy and Diana only care about their pets. The rest are mere clones. Puppets who are nothing without the puppeteer. Perhaps I should have a son. But even then, it would be decades before they are groomed. Why do such, when within the same span of time... we could finish what my father dreamed?"
However, suddenly Igniz goes silent. His eyes close, before the robed figure pushed to his feet. Zero said nothing wrong. Igniz was always a reflective and earnest individual in the past. But each step down the raised stairs indicates more and more that this...
Is no longer the same man.
"Desperation...? Do not use such a disparaging word about me again." Slitted eyes peer from the shadows, shimmering once more as a rustle seems to threaten the serenity of his blooming chi. "You know well I fully embraced father's approach...! For fifty years, I helped him, counselled him, gave him my own strength! And for what? He died. In two years, I have accomplished as much as he did in half a century...!"
Suddenly Igniz spreads his arms. A huge roar of power flashes up him, billowing back his hood. A combat suit. This is new; he never wore one before. It must be based on Zero's own; but what sort of advancements might be within it, while he was off in Antartica?
"You, the former war potential of NESTS... I shall show you forthwith... the fruits of the Cartel. Let us have a little spar...!"
Suddenly Igniz lifts a hand. The motion is smooth but without haste. Fingers lightly curl. And then, a violent orb of cerulean chi goes roaring out. It seemed to simply appear from thin air, so thick and heavy that a swirl of violent lashing corona flails about it. Bearing down upon Zero with remarkable speed...!!
COMBATSYS: Igniz has started a fight here.
COMBATSYS: Zero has joined the fight here.
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Zero 0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0 Igniz
COMBATSYS: Igniz successfully hits Zero with Divine Arrow - Air EX.
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Zero 0/-------/----===|=======\-------\0 Igniz
It takes a beat, but Zero soon takes to glancing at the surrounding screens while his systems tag random bits of the information streaming past him. Problematic figures, controversial methods, names of employees... the number of the latter that come up in green - for friendly, familiar - instead of yellow or red for varying degrees of caution is so bothersome that more of his attention is pulled into the scrawl once the pattern becomes evident.
"Igniz..." the bladed scientist whispers as his brow furrows. Not only were the reports correct, they only told part of the story. "Our father dreamed of a better world; he was willing to lead us through darkness to bring it into being, but this... what good is chasing a dream when it's woven from nightmares like these?"
After the first couple of steps, Zero lifts his head and has to do a double-take at the man advancing on him. Where is the man he stood beside for all those decades...?
Flexing his muscles, apparently; Igniz's outrage is followed by a worrisome spike in the already extreme readings pouring into Zero's systems. He follows the flick of the other man's fingers, sees the chi swirling in the air; his suit even screams warnings at him, and none of it is enough to protect himself from what what comes. The orb collides with his arms and explodes with a cerulean flare that hurls him backwards.
"What--Igniz--!" he exclaims as he pushes himself up from his stomach. "Have you gone...hh. A /spar/."
He doesn't just retake his feet, he rocks forward and springs off of the ground, hoping to close the gap between himself and Igniz. Booted feet slide a little when they finally touch the floor again, but the movement is brief; as his hand blurs down to the edge of his skirt, he forces himself to a hard stop so that he's able to flick the edge of the garmet in a cutting arc aimed towards his sibling's belly.
"If /this/ is your welcome, then I accept!"
COMBATSYS: Igniz interrupts Satsuma from Zero with Red Noah.
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Zero 0/-------/=======|=======\==-----\1 Igniz
"Nightmares...? What nightmares do you speak of? This is progress. I gain no pleasure or sadism from these. A rat, a rabbit, a monkey, all of these are necessary casualties in the pursuit of a better future. Do not think I gave this trivial thought. In the end, I have deemed that a clone is no more a true creation than to copy a program. I do regret that you were not here to discuss the ethics... but in the end, the promises for growth vastly superceded all else."
Indeed, there seems to be an inner council of scientists. And Zero would note two things that are dangerous about those names. They are radicals, people who were recruited by Nests and given a 'second chance'. If they had no leash...!! They are undoubtedly amongst the most brilliant mines alive, and are certainly intellectually qualified for that station...
Ah. Misty organized this. More and more, pieces are visible. Misty. Misty. Misty. Her fingerprints are everywhere. To think she would do so much the moment that Zero turned his back. And his clone, the supposed safeguard, apparently did little to stop it...!
All Igniz does is march forward, his lower robes swirling upwards. A combination of both his chi, and the whirring tentacles present. He suddenly snaps forward in the same motion. There's no technique here. No countless battle analysis. This is... true fighting potential. To think Igniz was capable of such. There was little sign of it...! He had cared more for books and meditation than war!!
One tentacle swirls up, and a purple disk manifests. The blades rip into it, shattering through and then raking across Igniz' chest. But it only causes the skin-tight forcefield to crackle heavily, repelled with a hiss.
As a second tentacle grasps him by the ankle, and far too effortlessly twists upwards, sending Zero hurtling head over heels towards the ceiling. The remaining two heft upwards, before two cerulean lasers fire out, to impact him in the chest and slam him against the armored roof, likely hard enough to severely dent it.
"I found out father was right." Igniz begins. "Gods do exist. ...but all my evidence points to an interesting case. That they are born...! This is beyond my father's efforts at the ultimate organism. This..."
Igniz opens his arms, body whirling once more as he smiles softly. "Is the creation of the ultimate being. What you see before you is the progress NESTS has made thus far. I already stand at the apex of creation, and we have only just begun."
He then holds up a hand haltingly. It might not be enough to stop the last assault, but it's clear Igniz is satisfied with what's already been done. Although Zero, likely rather humiliated, might think differently.
COMBATSYS: Igniz has left the fight here.
[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ <
COMBATSYS: Zero has ended the fight here.
Zero doesn't really have time to weigh or debate the ethics of rapid-fire genetic experimentation because he's too busy grappling with its results.
As pieces to the puzzle that is the new NESTS begin to fall into place, Igniz just about shakes them free by driving him into the ceiling; /most/ of the impact is concentrated on his back and shoulders, but his head still snaps up into the ceiling hard enough to rattle his brain in his skull. Add the disorientation sweeping over him to the bruised and burned flesh just beneath the smoking cracks spreading across his battlesuit, and he is not having a good fight. 'Spar'; whatevever this is.
He isn't so shaken up that he's unable to adjust himself when he inevitably falls, though--even if that really just means tucking his body so that he bounces and rolls through the fall rather than landing face first. He also swipes his spread hand through the air beneath him on the way down, and the gesture calls up more concentric rings around his body that flicker brightly as they blunt some of the trauma from the fall.
None of it's enough, really; he is slow indeed to retake his feet when he finally comes to rest, and he keeps an arm wrapped around his ribcage the entire time. His expression is one of shock, horror, betrayal--and, yes, wounded pride. All it took was three years and one woman to turn his world upside down; the hand still dangling at his side clenches into a fist as he considers another avenue of attack. Igniz seems as if he's already made the point he wants to make, and there's still /so much/ that he doesn't know about his dreamy comrade's new suit...
On the other hand: if his alternative is waiting for Igniz to demonstrate the suit's power for his analysis, he may be waiting a while.
"And instead of sharing this breakthrough," he groans, staring daggers at the self-styled god, "you /hid/ it." The faint rings still lingering around the wounded cyborg darken, compress together, then flow across the surface of his battle suit, leaving just his head uncovered as he continues, "Instead of consulting me - /me/, the man who kept watch over the Cartel's labs for decades - you /gutted/ what I slaved to build, and /why/?" An electric hum fills the air around him, building to a crescendo as the chi clinging to his body briefly bubbles, then explodes into the air to try and latch onto Igniz.
"So that you could finally enjoy the taste of what our Father had seen fit to bless me with?!" he exclaims as the wave of paralyzing energy courses through the air.
It is meant to cling to Igniz if it hits, but with the added benefit of holding him in place by bearing down on his body with artificial gravity; if it's successful, Zero will charge across the intervening space in a blur to register his discontent with a series of punches aimed at the other man's body followed by a thrust kick directed up towards his chin.
COMBATSYS: Zero successfully hits Igniz with Tsugio Hikoujin.
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Zero 1/-------/=======|=======\=====--\1 Igniz
Surprisingly, Igniz seems to falter upon looking upon Zero. His completely open expression, baring everything; isolated as he is from the world, and with only three people in it he has any attachment to, it is far too simple to stand at the apex and lack any and all empathy with what lies beneath.
"I... did not hide it. As with the genetic treatments to halt aging, I am simply the first... Father said never to develop a technology you would not volunteer to embrace first..." He doesn't sound nearly so sure, and some hint of the quiet and far more humble boy shines through.
His eyes harden for a few moments at the statement about gutting the cartel, as Igniz simply stands there. The energy ripples outwards, with the scion looking upon it. It grasps tight, but the black cloaked man does not budge.
Only when Zero hurtles forward, he will see that Igniz closes his eyes just prior to reaching him. A loud whirr, before the forcefield shuts down. The first blow is upon him with no defense outside the ceramic alloy of the suit, a brutal onslaught. Blood spurts from his mouth, before the last brutal kick upwards hits him in the face. Bright red goblets float in the zero gravity, almost surreal when the pair's mechanical ensemble is magnetically pulled to the ground.
Igniz thumps upon his back, sliding away with a dull screech. With little hesitation he rolls over to hands and knees, before his tentacles push him back upright.
"Your rage is just." he states simply. Sadly. His back is still towards Zero, completely vulnerable. "Strike me until you are satisfied... then we shall speak."
COMBATSYS: Igniz hovers in place, smiling softly in a whirl of black cloth.
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Zero 1/-------/=======|=======\=====--\1 Igniz
Igniz's lapsed defense isn't lost on Zero, but it doesn't stay his onslaught. Igniz requested a spar! He wanted to demonstrate his new powers; why hold back /now/?
And on top of that, the simple fact remains that Zero is still just a little too affronted to pull his blows, even if they are accompanied by an expression that melts from 'seething' to 'conflicted' which each strike.
After the final kick, when Igniz hits the ground, the other cyborg doesn't waste any time closing the gap: he becomes a blur of motion, surging through whatever new distance may have been created to reposition himself before--Igniz's--back? Even though he sinks into an aggressive posture once he reaches his target, he hesitates rather than throw another attack.
Again, his fists are clenched so tightly that they begin to shake as he contemplates his brother conspirator; this time, though, there are flecks of blood lazily drifting through the air to distract him.
This time, instead of the declarations of a self-made god, he's faced with one of the only people on Earth who knows the pain he swallowed to carry out his mission in Antarctica, and while his hands remain raised for several long seconds... eventually, they fall.
At least, briefly, they do; as soon as his fists unclench, he throws his arms forward to firmly grip the other man's armoured shoulders.
"I... cannot; if you want this contest to end," he quietly says, voice still somewhat tense, if not boiling the way it was before, "then it is over. You've demonstrated your--point very handily, brother, even if I--cannot--bring myself to agree. Perhaps... perhaps some day, I will find my way there. Given some time to analyze your methods--acquaint myself with them..."
COMBATSYS: Zero takes no action.
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Zero 0/-------/=======|=======\=====--\1 Igniz
"...A lot has changed." Igniz allows, looking up towards the endless stars. "I sent Father to the heavens he yearned; he orbits the Earth now, forever watching creation from above. I believe only a God could dare to pass judgement upon him... and so it is a God I shall become." This phrase means far more than Zero could hope to intuit at the moment, of course. "It is true. I have reached far, Zero. But too far...? I see only the results."
Igniz looks down upon his hands, flexing them slowly. "Even without this suit, my capabilities are extreme. Yet Father would call it militaristic. But I swear to you, Zero."
Turning back to the other man, Igniz's face looks solemn. The quiet, steadfast determination he has housed for his long life. Longer, many are always surprised to find, than Zero himself... indeed, it was likely the other man, once Nests embraced him for a potential, who looked up to the silver haired angel always gazing off into space.
"I am not doing this for power. It is research into evolution, as always. Even Father did what must be done. He tried to minimize how many subjects he kidnapped, but there was no alternative. ...The vast majority of our work are done with expendable clones. Yes... it is difficult to wrap your head around it, if you see them as people. But this is research into the nature of the soul. I am beginning to think they are real. Meta-Chi, I call it. That which makes the very rules of the Universe. I have begun to decipher it, bit by bit. But... I require more enhancement before it can be realized."
Igniz idly wipes blood away from his lip, once more turning to look up at the distant Earth. But only for a moment. After, his gaze is on the whole of creation, as if it was only one part of what he aimed for.
"You are one of two people in my inner circle. And you have been in my life far longer than any alive. Your counsel and advice is important to me. As is walking this path together, if at all possible."
A hand then extends towards Zero, gentle, compassionate, a smile returning to his face. The first in three long years.
"The Cartel is my father's legacy. But my legacy is different. My legacy shall be solving the very mystery to the Universe. Will you not join me as my right hand...?"
COMBATSYS: Igniz has left the fight here.
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Zero joins Igniz in looking to the stars after withdrawing his hands, and continues - albeit with some effort - to keep his eyes up there when Igniz talks about passing judgment on their father. Of becoming divine; Igniz always did seem to live with one foot firmly planted in the clouds, so while his terrible new power offers some bare clue to the meaning behind his lofty words... the true extent of them is hard to grasp.
"Even with the purist of motives... you've chosen a dangerous path, Igniz," the dark-skinned cyborg carefully says as his arms fold over his chest. His eyes remain fixed on the stars, studying them as if he's expecting to find some peace with the changed environs he's been plunged into--or less likely still, a glimpse of his father. "It isn't--/just/ about the toll of burning through so many test cycles, shifting up the timetables... no." Finally, he lowers his gaze to meet Igniz's.
"I'm certain that you needn't see them as people to understand that the most successful among them are still /weapons/--dangerous entities that could just as easily turn their carefully crafted gifts upon the cartel as bring the Cartel closer to achieving its goals," he concludes. He is, of course, speaking of the insurgency that sprang up in the wake of Nests' death, even if he talks his way around it. "But: I suppose that you couldn't help losing sight of those details with the light of progress shining in your eyes, eh? Do not worry--"
Zero takes his fellow cyborg's hand in his and shakes it; while he doesn't - can't, really - return the older man's smile, the contemplative expression he's wearing instead suggests that he is at least taking Igniz's words into consideration. That, and: "--I'm here to take care of them, now, so that you don't have to."
When the handshake eventually breaks, he withdraws his arm to fold his arms over his chest. He starts to say, "Meta--aar--" before pausing to loosen his arms in favor of clutching his chest with a grimace. "--Chi, hm? Fascinating; I look forward to having a look at your research."
COMBATSYS: Zero has ended the fight here.
"...I felt asleep my entire life. Going through the motions. As if I was in some grand daydream. A whispering voice lulled me out. In a crucible of pain and torment, my willpower was finally awoken to my full potential. But it left me changed. I am not the man you knew. ...I am the man I should have always been."
Igniz spreads his arms at this, levitating suddenly in a whirl of fabric from all directions. Again, that flood of energy would buffet Zero, nearly overloading his systems with the sheer magnitude it estimates. That strange readings... could they be traces of this 'Meta-Chi' of which he mentioned? Has he found tangible proof it exists and can be wielded in some effect?
"Do you really think those who escaped are beyond my judgement? I have found that the psyche of the mind is vital to certain manifestations. Most notably, willpower and tenacity. I am crafting numerous environments to test this. Both within the lab, as in this clone," A gesture manifests a viewscreen, which has Nameless within. "And those outside." Another brings up K'.
"This one was supposed to die. The terminal lifespan of his batch, one of the very first, is the reason that safety was lax. He is the only true genuine case of an escape that is not monitored and organized. That he not only survived, but grew in power, opened my eyes. He has allied himself with some of Father's former works, who broke free... I have no interest in them, so pursuit is light, but... they are able to actually escape our constant vigilance. For now he is a high priority, but I doubt he will die so easily, despite nobody attempting to take his head being aware he is my most special and important test case."
Another gesture brings up a picture of Maxima, who Zero would remember as one of the forefront in the cybernetic and biological augmentation programs. The last one he began, incomplete, and the one which he disliked. But progress required it... even if he did not leap into it with nearly the fervant manner of Igniz.
The hand is grasped, strong yet soft. A warm thrum would beat in Zero's very chest before it breaks, threatening the very circuits of his suit.
"Come now. The great bodyguard of Nests should not be so fragile. I only hit you twice. ...But it was as hard as I could. To survive to such an extent is truly testament to yourself, beyond your own augmentations. Worry not. Once development progresses further, you shall ascend with me..."
Igniz then continues to watch the slowly shifting view as the facility rotates at a steady enough clip to keep the center rooted in false gravity. "The next thing I need... is a compatible genetic genome. It must come from a fighter of strong will. Without it, my ascension cannot continue. Let me tell you about an interesting haven for potential genetic material..."
"Some call it the 'Rival Schools'..."
When Igniz ascends, Zero's pain actually worsens briefly: his telemetry systems are so overloaded, so greedy for energy to drive their futile analyses that it's affecting his self-repair routines. The bladed cyborg sags in place, grimaces, and barely manages not to cry out as fire spreads through his chest, abated only when he's finally able to shut his secondary senses down.
His hand remains splayed across his chest as he studies the displays. K''s draws more of his attention than Nameless'; the effects of hardship on a developing fighter's psyche and potential is a thing he'd intermittently tested pre-Antarctica and rigorously modeled during, but a test as ambitious as K''s is a ways outside of his projections.
For what it's worth, he seems less bothered and more thoughtful as he studies the escaped project.
"I'm not /entirely/ sure that you know your own strength," he mutters when Igniz chastises him. He doesn't remark on his own ascension; Igniz's newfound might is as undeniable as it is blasphemous, and he's going to need some time to process what it really means for the dream.
And then the pitch comes; the sour look that comes over Zero's features at 'my ascension' is quickly wiped away when he hears the venue. His brow furrows and he brings his free hand up to stroke his chin.
A part of him /has/ always wondered what it might be like to be an educator...
Outside, a haze of smoke is exhaled from Misty, cigarette held on the end of a long Victorian-era tube between two fingers. The viewscreen and audio for the interior of the throne room is finally cut off with a gesture. Her expression as calm and measured as always, she strides down the hall, with the same strong and self-assured saunter she always possesses...
Log created on 14:25:53 12/01/2014 by Zero, and last modified on 21:13:29 12/16/2014.