The Presidential Plaza in Newfork, before it had several of its statues dislodged from the earth by seismic shockwaves, had served as a monument to the grandness of Amera and its founders. George Newfork had stood guard over the plaza as he had stood guard over the cavalry brigades that proved instrumental to Amera’s freedom in the Freedom Wars– And then there were other statues too, but all of them had been turned to scattered debris and Ladybird honestly could not remember who they were or what they did. She knew George Newfork killed a bunch of folks who were bad and won freedoms and junk.
“I’m honestly having a hard time remembering, myself.” Dragonfly admitted.
“Almost like these people don’t matter anymore except for their statues.” Ladybird said.
“Who are you talking to? And shut your blasphemous trap! They’re extremely important, even now. Be quiet and look at the stupid rock before I have you removed.”
Cassandra grumphed and harrumphed and tapped her shoes. She had agreed to allow Ladybird to more closely inspect the mysterious monument, with the caveat that her secret service detail was allowed to have their guns up and pointing at her the entire time, in case she did anything deemed a threat to national security. Such things included, but were not limited to, opening the stone doors into the monument, and backsassing Cassandra too much.
“Do you know who the other Founders were?” Ladybird asked, taking a polite tone. She had a placid smile on her face and gestured toward Cassandra in gentle fashion.
“Do I look like a teacher?” Cassandra asked. “We barely have jobs for teachers as it is without me taking some by giving you a lecture on history you should know. Look it up on Noodle!”
“Well, with the suit, the small skirt and heels, it’s kind of like a ‘cute professor’ costume–”
“SHUT UP AND STARE AT THE ROCK.”
Satisfied she’d snuck enough sass through, Ladybird continued to examine the monument. She floated gently near it, and flew past it, and looked it over from various angles. For an object that had apparently risen violently from the Earth, its surface was quite polished, showing very little in the way of decay or violence. Ladybird had initially thought of it as a mausoleum, and she felt this impression more strongly the more she looked.
After rising from the earthquake, the part of the mysterious monument visible over the earth had risen to about a story tall and it was about as long and wide as a couple of city buses. The structure had been rendered in a simple but still ornate style – it possessed a strong base with three concentric square steps on each side that led up to the thinner “body” of the building, accessed by two bare, white stone doors, and it was topped with a roof jutting out over the foundation like an inverted version of the original base. It felt ominous enough to be a tomb.
Ladybird landed again in front of the monument, and knelt forward for a moment. This simple movement triggered several clicks and cracks behind her. She turned to face the secret service detail and the president, and in an instant the agents became one huddled mass of guns cocked and shaking in place, with Cassandra in the middle of the armed procession baring her fangs at Ladybird. Ladybird waved them away with her hand.
“Back up a bit, I’m doing something.”
“Doing what?” Cassandra asked, hands on her hips. “I already told you, I know what it is, and you don’t have to. It’s none of your business, so do tell what you plan to do to it.”
“I’m gonna make a weird noise at it.” Ladybird replied, her exasperation beginning to show in her tone of voice. “You’ll feel it and get freaked out. So take a step back, for your health.”
Cassandra crossed her arms and stayed put, but the agents moved back as instructed.
Ladybird faced the monument again, and spread her arms out. She felt a tingling inside her head and closed her eyes. Her antennae shot straight up in the air, solid as a pair of iron bars. Her mind clouded up, and went dark, and she tried not think of anything and to tune out any distractions. Her sensations dulled, and she felt only her breathing and heartbeat. She timed them and thought of their relation to everything. Her mind’s eye found color again.
She pounded her foot, and she felt that. She even saw it.
In her mind it was a circle, a ripple going out, and it had color and meaning.
She breathed out and whispered, and it was all dull to her, but Cassandra and the agents heard a blaring noise coming from the Ladybir’ds body, a banshee-like screech that shook their clothes and kicked up dirt and seemed to travel right through their stomachs. A low rumbling stormed through them starting from their bellies and up into their ribcages, and the agents nearly fell over with surprise, and many doubled over standing.
Ladybird saw color in her mind, color and meaning, and a picture of everything.
Satisfied, she tapped the side of her head to alert Dragonfly on the radio.
“I just blasted the ground.” Ladybird said. “According to my radar there’s nothing under this thing. It just popped up right out of the ground, it didn’t even make a hole, the dirt’s perfectly compact under it.”
“That is just bizarre, but I trust your radar sense.” Dragonfly replied.
“What about your observations, you’ve been taking pictures right?”
“It’s difficult to tell its age without chemically analyzing the stone.” Dragonfly said. Ladybird’s left goggle lens flickered and then began to play back footage of what she saw while inspecting the monument. “The style is completely nondescript. Very little artistry went into it, so you can’t really compare it to many trends.”
“It’s small enough,” she continued, “that I don’t really know what you’d bury in it. It’s big enough for remains, but whose? You’d build a tomb to confine the remains – but make it plain, undecorated?”
“Yeah, I don’t really understand it either.” Ladybird said. “And then, there’s no mechanisms around it, nothing under it, and apparently nothing really even in it so what is this thing?”
Cassandra seemed to have had enough of being left out of the loop and marched right up to the Ladybird, stomping her feet childishly and audibly as she went. She pricked the Ladybird’s shoulder between three fingers, like a school teacher about to roughly scold a teenager. “LISTEN,” She shouted, and then shouted even louder into Ladybird’s ear, “And you too, whatever little nuisance hacker is handling her direction in there. All you two need to know is that this monument, that has nothing to do with anything, is going back into the dirt, permanently!”
Ladybird balled up her fists and grit her teeth, Cassandra’s voice bouncing painfully in her head, when Dragonfly pleaded, “Ladybird, please don’t hurt her, you’d be made the villain.”
Declawed, Ladybird grumbled and crossed her arms while Cassandra continued to berate her.
“The official response, which will be delivered on national, trustworthy media sources in the evening, when you’re back home watching TV, eating snacks and being happy like a good Ameran,” She pinched Ladybird even harder in the shoulder, until she almost winced from pain, “will be that an earthquake happened that miraculously resulted in little to no death, and that insurance paperwork will be done speedily. Is that ENOUGH for you?”
Ladybird nodded begrudgingly. Cassandra released Ladybird and then patted down her hair, dusted off the sides of her suit and straightened her elytra, all with a tender little smile.
“Good. See, no harm done. Now buzz off.” She said sweetly, pinching Ladybird’s cheek.
At that moment, several blocks away, a Cerberus APC roared to life. Its wheels screeched loud enough to catch everyone’s attention. Cassandra looked annoyed by the interruption and watched the vehicle as it pulled violently off the street, wheeled around to face them with its sloped, armored front, and then rushed up the road. The vehicle thundered over the plaza in a straight line toward the monument, and spun suddenly during its approach, swinging its right side around so that its door met Cassandra as it stopped. Modified into a tactical operations center by the addition of satellite receivers, wireless internet and radio equipment, the APC brought news with it – one of the crew inside stepped out in a hurry.
“Ma’am, there’s something big headed this way. We are requesting permission to intercept.”
Cassandra grit her teeth. She glared for Ladybird to stay put where she was, and she approached the vehicle and leaned into its interior from the door to peer at the equipment. Ladybird honored the agreement, raising her hands up so they could be seen, and thrusting her antennae up in the air to mimic them.
“What the Sacred Hell is it?”
“We don’t know ma’am.” The officer replied. “It’s completely unidentified and we only just now spotted it on radar. We have no visual confirmation, but we know it’s flying over Central.”
“How is it that we don’t have pictures of this thing already?”
The officer looked distraught by the question. He raised his hands as though he’d been accused of something, and waved them as though trying to fan the accusation away. “We don’t know, ma’am! We’ve pointed drone cameras and a satellite over it. Thing’s like, invisible; and it’s moving leisurely, but it’ll be here soon.”
Ladybird watched from afar the huddle forming at the door of the APC. The secret service agents were still fixated on her with their submachine guns, but she had her antennae bent a little at the tips, picking up the conversation from afar with their sensitive, club-like ends. She knew exactly what all of this meant.
In an instant she rattled her wings and blew out a second radar pulse. She closed her eyes and waited for it to bounce back. Then she leaped to the sky, leaving behind a cadre of agents retching on the floor. Cassandra seized the radio from the APC commander and began to shout orders, but it was already too late, and the Ladybird had flown overhead, clearing the Plaza and following her instincts and natural radar to the rolling hills outside the plaza. Something massive was flying over the hilly, unoccupied park space between city and plaza, and heading right for the monument.
Ladybird picked up speed, her wings exuding green sparks and her lower back bursting with green flames and exhaust. She flew higher and faster, and at her flanks the E-35 jets weaved through the air struggling to maintain a formation around her. Finding themselves outflown by Ladybird’s natural ease they dispersed left and right away from her, and she watched them go with a triumphant grin; in the next instant she slammed into something terribly cold and hard, ricocheting off the object and careening back toward the park while the Eagle Troops scattered defensively.
Over the park the invisible object opened fire, ignoring the dazed Ladybird and targeting the Eagle Troops jets scattering away from it. Furious muzzle flashes across its hull marked its position in the sky, and the thing launched its attack while descending ponderously toward the monument. Ameran fighter jets rolled and banked sharply to avoid the raking fire from the autocannons. Bursts of gunfire lashed the sky and barely caught the trailing exhaust from the supersonic jets, each maneuvering such that the guns could not easily acquire the craft nor the formation as a whole.
The E-35s had felt out its attacks, tracked its position in the sky, and were ready to commence their own runs. Each craft broke off on its own from the object’s airspace, and once far enough they turned in tandem and sped toward it anew. While it fired erratically upon them the jets swooped down to threaten it from all sides, returning fire with their own cannons, landing heavy rounds unto the invisible surface near its own cannon mounts, where its invisibility had been betrayed by its muzzle flashes and shots. Encircled, the craft’s fire was even less effective than it had once been. Guided missiles burst from under the jet’s wings and shot toward the object, set to deliver the most punishing impacts.
Reacting to the missiles, several more compartments opened along the top of the mysterious craft. Loud booms issued from each as the missiles closed in. Mere meters away from the object every guided missile fell apart harmlessly and all at once, stricken by the anti-missile defenses. The jets scattered defensively once more–
All around the object the E-35s froze into place, their jet engines burning but unable to accelerate the craft to their defensive maneuvers. Autocannons quieted and the E-35s roared with power, trying to force themselves from their mysterious paralysis at mach speeds. In the center of the frozen formation the object began to stir. Each craft spun suddenly off course as though thrown like children’s toys across a play room, pilots ejecting from every craft as they crashed supersonically into the park hills, the roads and upon the ruins of nearby buildings. A broken jet was hurled just over the command APC, where President Ableman huddled, mouth agape at the unreal disaster speeding across her airspace. It exploded behind her contingent, so close that she could feel the heat sweeping out over the APC. She grit her teeth.
A voice sounded from the machine. “Let’s not do anything we might regret!”
A bright flash blinded the occupants of the park for a second; the object blurred and warped visibly as it threw off its cloak. Inch by inch gunmetal and black colors painted over a thick, saucer-like shape dozens of feet in diameter, from which nine segmented lengths flailed exuberantly, clicking large, gleaming pincer-like heads at their ends. When fully revealed the object showed no particular damage from the assaults upon it, and its five-bladed claws spread open and slowly relaxed, dangling toward the ground. From the bottom, hatches with sound systems opened.
“President Ableman, my name is Doctor Cruciere, and I have DEMANDS.”
Cassandra raised both of her palms to her face.
“By the Dead Mother, not YOU again.” She mumbled.
Around her, the soldiers stared with a mix of confusion and horror at the incredible machine floating before them, while at the same time mumbling “gurblegurb?” involuntarily aloud as their minds sought to understand the demonic forces mentioned in the President’s careless oaths. Cruciere, meanwhile, chuckled.
“Madam President, I’m sorry to say, but I believe you are a primitive moron who must by now realize your inferiority in comparison to me.” Cruciere said. “I have a simple demand, that will greatly improve the world. The Ameran Commercial Empire must immediately surrender fully to me, commit itself to the philosophy of Crucierian Technocracy, rename itself to Crucieristan in the carrying out of this surrender, and render unto me all of the Verdite resources that you have illegally collected from the ocean, all of which belongs to me. There can be no negotiation!”
“Suffice it to say, no, I, and Amera, cannot accept any of that.” Cassandra said.
Cruciere sighed audibly. “Well, that’s unfortunate. I don’t like killing people, but grievous injury is sometimes helpful for changing intractable positions. Asmodeus, crush her. Gently.”
“Hydra Head System launch.” Asmodeus replied, also over the speakers.
Across the machine’s body the segmented steel tethers contracted, twisted and lifted the pincers into the air like a crown around the machine’s body. Cassandra Ableman shrank back and shook in place, her hand over her mouth and her wings and tail extended, fully erect in shock. One by one the machine heads stretched out, tested their boundaries and then twisted back around to the ground before suddenly launching toward the President’s APC like snakes lunging to bite. The steel mass surged toward the President, the blades at the ends gnashing like hungry teeth.
Beneath the shrieking of metal across the air came a sound like a jet exhaust.
Ladybird launched suddenly forward and swept past the tethers. Sharp, glowing green mantid claws at the ends of her arms severed the flexible appendages with ease, cutting clean across the segments. Grinding metallic heads fell useless at the feet of President Ableman and the door to her APC, stopping about a foot away from completely crushing her in an indistinct pile of metal, turf and blood. Ladybird ground to a halt beneath Cruciere’s machine, her feet slicing two scars across the green as she slowed, green smoke trailing where her fiery exhaust had calmed.
“Thanks for bunching up your tentacles where I can cut them all.” Ladybird said.