Chapter 233 - Stay and Fight
A few hours later -
Aldrich sat on the roof of a armored car thoroughly decked out in nomad aesthetics. If he had to find a word for the genre that nomad tech design fit in, he would say thoroughly post-apocalyptic.
Everything looked almost make shift with armor plating scrapped from various mismatched sources roughly welded and packed together, guns crammed on just for the sake of having big guns, and tribal accessories like metal horns attached to the car's front.
"How do you like my baby, huh?" Clint sat beside Aldrich, a beer bottle in his hand. The bottle looked almost like a toy prop compared to Clint's enormous size.
Aldrich himself was quite tall at around two meters, but Clint was half a meter taller even than that. But that was not uncommon among mutant Alters whose powers permanently shifted their body.
"How do these things even run?" said Aldrich. He also had a beer in his hand. He had been outside of the compound, watching Chiros drill his death knights, when Clint spotted him and asked him to sit down and have a talk over a drink. "No offense, of course, but they just seem so inefficient. Nomad tech seems to have no regard at all for weight or physics."
"I dunno', shit's too complicated for me," said Clint. "I know we got different engines. Powered by fuckin' geostorm energy - can't get any more badass than that, right?"
"Geostorms?" Aldrich raised a brow. As far as he knew, geostorms were basically just natural disasters with no real value to them. The storms, not variants, though variants did play a part, were the biggest reason why approximately 42% of Earth was still inhospitable.
They were not just ordinary natural disasters. They were supernatural in origin, powered by large swells of Ether within the planet.
Just like how Alter organs could process ether into countless different effects, geostorms seemed to use ether in remarkably unpredictable yet invariably destructive ways.
Fire storms, thunder storms, magnetic storms, disintegrating storms - any horrible person destroying effect you could think of, geostorms could probably manifest it.
Cities were built in areas where geostorms did not regularly cross, but of course, nomads had to deal with them as a way of life.
"The storms are the reason we can fuel most of our tech," said Gerard. He had joined in on this conversation as well, sitting beside Clint with a bottle of liquor instead of beer. "They release highly enriched ether in gas form whenever they pass, and some of us, stormchasers as we're called, follow the storms and store that energy for us to use."
"You can't wait for the storms to pass?" asked Aldrich.
"I wish. Wouldn't lose my men that way," said Gerard with a sigh and a swig of his bottle. "The enriched ether decays rapidly. You look at a storm after it's passed, even just half an hour later, and there's nothing.
Not even the Panopticon risks harvesting storms. Only nomads like us that need to do what we need to do to survive.
It's kind of poetic in a way.
Storms are our greatest threat, but also our livelihood.
Reminds me of the yellow river in ancient China. Millions lived by its life giving waters. Millions died by its raging floods."
"Yellow river? You didn't strike me as the type to quote stuff from China," said Aldrich.
"Why not? We live in a global society, don't we? Well, as global as can be with half of it in the wastes.
But I spent a decade there, actually, when I was young and wanted to explore the world more," said Gerard. He raised his fist in the air, and from it, a sky blue aura of energy formed. "Trained under Sifu, back when he took foreign students."
"Sifu?" Aldrich remarked, mildly surprised.
Sifu was one of China's S class heroes and a legend within Alter history, being one of the extremely rare surviving few that had lived so long he predated the Altering itself. He was almost single-handedly responsible for restoring order to the country after superpowered villains labeling themselves as 'warlords' took over large chunks of it.
"Yeah." Gerard said with a proud smile. "The Qi keeps me strong and young. Well, young as can be. I look sixty, boy, but you best be aware that I'm almost a hundred myself."
"I've never seen anyone using Qi in person. Thought it was limited to China," said Aldrich.
Sifu possessed an Editor class power that he called Qi that allowed him to create a 'dantian' within himself that could process energy - the colloquial term for bodily ether used to fuel alter organs - and convert it into powerful physical reinforcement or even projectiles. The qi also slowed his aging process, though it did not make him immortal.
By now, Sifu was probably a hundred and sixty years old, give or take, and age had weakened his powers considerably. But his legacy was what made Sifu so important.
As an Editor, Sifu could manipulate other Alters' powers. More specifically, if an Alter had the potential, he could have them grow a dantian as well. The dantian was in effect a secondary growth similar to the alter organ specialized towards creating qi.
Not everyone could grow a dantian and among those that could, not all could use it effectively. But still, enough people were compatible with it that it let Sifu create a personal army.
Because of this, the Chinese government, once re-established, took Sifu in as a national asset.
A thoroughly guarded one, too. The government let essentially no outsiders learn under Sifu.
The fact that Gerard did meant he was in China during the warlord's reign almost seventy years ago, showcasing just how old he was.
"You really are old," continued Aldrich. "Considering you must have gotten in the country during the warlords' reign."
"Bah, still spry enough to throw down in a fight if I have to," said Gerard, insulted. He side eyed Aldrich. "That's one thing I wanted to talk to you about.
You and Thanatos obtaining Sentinel status - you think that's possible?"
"I have enough leverage to make them heavily consider it," said Aldrich.
"I know that. But it's not just about leverage. It's whether you think you think you two belong in that league."
Aldrich narrowed his eyes. "What do you mean by that, exactly?"
"He means strength," said Clint. "Y'all think you got the power to stand up there as a proper Sentinel state? That's what Gerard wants to know."
"Look at the other Sentinels in the world so far," said Gerard. "Emperor in China, Semiramis in the Middle East, Dracul in Eastern Europe, Aja in Africa, Ravana in India, and Utopia who manages Neo-Eden for the world's elite.
Emperor and Dracul are top class powers widely regarded among the strongest Alters of all time. Some even say that they can match Vanguard's mountain shattering punches in his prime.
Semiramis, Oko, and Ravana have powers so dangerous or useful that nobody wants to upset them.
Utopia, well, she's just a lapdog for the establishment, so I'll leave her out of this."
"And?" said Aldrich, unimpressed. "You don't think we belong in that league. Is that what you're implying?"
"I'm just not sure," said Gerard. "And I don't like uncertainty. That's why I'm holding off on fully committing to you, even with the Dark Six against me.
I have to admit this: I am growing old."
"No shit" said Clint, and Gerard ignored him.
"There's only so much Qi can do to stave off creaking bones and wrinkling skin. I'm holding on because I want to pass onto my riders a time of peace, not whatever shitshow we have on our hands now."
"Uncertainty is exciting though," said Clint, "if we was scared of a little bit of chaos then ain't no reason we ought to have left the cities in the first place."
"There's only so much of that this heart of mine can handle. Especially now." Gerard shook his head.
"If it's peace you want, it's peace you'll get." Aldrich took in a sip of his beer. He did not like the taste, but he found himself drinking it anyway.
Must have been the mood of the conversation.
He looked ahead at the vast wide wastelands before him, stretching out seemingly infinitely into the horizon in its canvas of amber oranges and sun baked earthen yellows. "It's what I want too."
"Better be a good fight or two on the way there," said Clint.
"More than one or two, with how this Dark Six situation's brewing," said Aldrich.
Clint cracked his thickly muscled neck. "Heh, I like the sound of that."
At the mention of fights, Gerard just sighed again. An old man sigh, more tired than anything else.
"In my opinion, Gerard, you're looking at things the wrong way," said Aldrich. "Yes, there's going to be fights. Conflicts before I establish myself. Uncertainty.
But your alternative is just to run. Run deeper into the wastelands and make life for you and your riders harder.
Is what you want to do?
Why not stay and fight? Fight to build something better to leave your people?"
"Age is gettin' to your head, old G," said Clint. "My pa always used to say: you only really start agin' when you let the age get to your head."
"I don't want to hear that from young'uns like you two." Gerard took a deep swig of his liquor. "But maybe there's merit in that. Maybe I have gotten a little too careful in my old age."
That moment, a hawk made of pure white energy alighted upon Gerard's shoulder.
"What is it?" asked Gerard. The hawk put its beak to Gerard's ear, and he immediately capped his bottle and got off the car.
"What's got ya in such a hurry, old fart?" said Clint.
"Variant movement due northeast. Closing in fast, too." Gerard tapped his cybernetic monocle, and the lens glowed blue. "I'm going to let my riders know. From what my hawk could tell, the variants are tough.
We'll need your riders, Clint. Or just you, if you're up for the job."
"Aw, hell yeah!" Clint got off with a heavy thud. He nodded to Aldrich. "Y'know, I want to know if you're any good in a fight, too. How bout' you come along with me, eh?"
"Sure." Aldrich shrugged.