Lestrade sat in his chilly underground lair, polishing off a greasy slice of pizza, before snapping open a can of Aetherpop, which hissed appetizingly as Lestrade gently tilted the can and sipped, savoring the taste of the smooth, fizzy liquid, throwing the paper plate and the crust of pizza behind him, where it landed on a large pile of several discarded cardboard pizza boxes, dozens of empty Aetherpop cans, and hundreds of sauce-stained paper plates, before lowering the metal can he now held in his hand, releasing a satisfied breath of air as Lestrade turned to his laptop, where he was supposed to be debugging the latest software that Nautilus had drafted for one of his newest Aethermaton models, but instead, decided that he was done with that for today, and with a quick tap of a few succesive keys, switched to a videogame launcher.
After entering his login info, the icon on the screen spun as Lestrade's laptop slowly loaded the game, with Lestrade taking this time to plug a stray wire into the side of his laptop, before plugging the other end into his right ear, an action that would have been quizzical and fatal for a human, but was inconsequential for Lestrade, who was one of the most advanced Aethermatons Nautilus Lightblast had created, if Lestrade did say so himself.
As the game on Lestrade's laptop finally loaded onto the screen, the wire which Lestrade had plugged into his ear allowed the game to be directly projected onto the surface of Lestrade's eyes, allowing him to see the pixelated world as if it was reality, along with enabling him to control his avatar's movements with his computerized brain.
Lestrade was suddenly transformed from the metallic-skinned weakling with an unimpressive demeanor, wild, curly orange hair, along with the grease, cheese, sauce and sweat-stained t-shirt and jeans he wore every day that was his physical form, into his digital avator, Inspector_Lestrade, a trench coat-wearing, fedora-donning, swashbuckling pistol-wielding daring man of intrigue. Whereas the Lestrade in real life was in terrible shape, despite the fact that his mechanical body self-repaired as fast as it could, Inspector Lestrade was in top shape, being able to leap across rooftops and perform acrobatic feats without so much as a sweat, the polar opposite of Lestrade, who could barely manage to climb the long staircase out of his underground lair, and as such, didn't venture into daylight very often.
Inspector_Lestrade suddenly blipped into existence on top of a clock tower, steadying himself on the unstable shingled roof by grabbing onto the metal pinnacle to his right, leaning half-off the sloping roof as the wind blew across the landscape, sending his trench coat billowing behind him in a dramatic pose as Lestrade took in the state of the digitized rendering of Aethasia, mainly the version of No Man's Landing beneath him.
Apparently, things had depreciated quite quickly in the past two weeks since Inspector_Lestrade had last logged onto the server, as the large billboards promoting the latest governor candidates, now obsolete, were defaced by volume of spray paint, with some on fire, as non-player characters ran through the street in terror, running from the mobs of digitized players who wielded everything from flamberge swords that were literally on fire, to lightning rods that summoned lightning, to bazookas that leveled entire houses in a matter of seconds.
It was chaos.
Inspector_Lestrade hated chaos.
After sighing and shaking his head, Inspector_Lestrade reached into his pocket and removed a small disc-like device, which, after he threw it a short distance in front of him, floated in the air as it unfurled, with sheets of metal sliding and twisting until the small metal disc transformed into a small hoverboard, which Inspector_Lestrade deftly jumped onto, his boots magnetically locking into place on the metal surface to prevent him from falling off the hoverboard as it rocketed towards the dystopian sight of anarchy below, with players wreaking havoc on the NPC population and each other alike.
As soon as Inspector_Lestrade got close enough, he outstretched his arms, causing two oversized pistols to digitally materialize into his gloved hands, with Inspector_Lestrade rapidly firing his guns discriminately at the players in crucial places as the hoverboard sped through the cobbled streets just two feet above the anarchist players' heads, as dozens of them fell from Inspector_Lestrade's bullets, their bodies digitally de-materializing as they succumbed to their wounds, their possessions flowing in streams of color into Inspector_Lestrade's pockets, the majority of which was gold, as Inspector_Lestrade flew through the streets upon his hoverboard like an angel of justice.
One of the players recognized who was spoiling their fun, and shouted "It's the Inspector! Get him!", causing many of the players to stop firing at each other and turn their chaotic desires on Inspector_Lestrade, who fought furiously to dodge their bullets, knives, arrows, and all other projectiles alike as he flew back and forth upon the street.
Suddenly, just as Inspector_Lestrade was midway down the street, a gargantuan hand clothed in thick brown leather reached up from the crowd and slapped his hoverboard, sending it spiraling out of control, careening into the crowd. Thinking fast, Inspector_Lestrade de-activated the hoverboard, sending it back into his inventory as Inspector_Lestrade was forced to leap into the crowd below, switching out his pistols for two large axes, which he swung in a wide circle around him, cleaving through players indiscriminately, effectively killing them in one hit, as Inspector_Lestrade was obscured by the massive streams of gold and items flowing into his inventory from the chaotic players he had massacred.
After deciding that he had enough space to work, Inspector_Lestrade suddenly halted his spinning like a tornado, stopping on a dime as he stood crouched, ready for battle with his two axes outstretched alongside him, daring anybody to come within six feet of him so he could cleave them into oblivion.
Unfortunately, nobody came within six feet of him.
Everybody came within six feet of him.
Slowly, the many dozens, perhaps even hundreds of players in the street around Inspector_Lestrade drew their weapons, brandishing their archaic recurve bows, their ninja-like daggers, their medieval longswords, their hunting rifles, their lightning-summoning hammers, and every other weapon in-between, with most of the weapons configured to wield some sort of weaponized element, be it flame, water, lightning, wind, ice, anything and everything their user could think of.
As Inspector_Lestrade carefully walked in a tight circle, sizing up the crowd around him, the players suddenly took a synchronized step forwards, closing the circle around the player in a black trench coat who only fought for justice, who suddenly swung his axes around, cleaving the few closest players into non-existance, before the rest of the players decided that inching closer and closer was the way to go, turning the ten-foot circle into a nine-foot, then eight-foot circle, before suddenly, as one, the players all leapt at Inspector_Lestrade with a war cry, ready to stab, clobber, beat, slice, pierce, cleave, and shoot him into oblivion, once and for all.
As the players leapt at Inspector_Lestrade, Lestrade's computer brain moved at a speed that was nearly incomprehensible as he struggled to find a way out of this deadly situation, which would no doubt find his avator dead, something he would sorely not want, as he had been working on Inspector_Lestrade for two years, honing his skills until he was nearly unbeatable, and it would be a great blow to Lestrade's pride if he lost this black trench-coated advocate of justice forever, since once a player died, there was no bringing them back.
As Lestrade scanned Inspector_Lestrade's stats and skills, attempting to calculate if there was even a .01 percent chance he could make it out of this situation alive, his eyes happened to flit across the Inspector's inventory, revealing one of the hundreds of items he had become the new owner of after he had slaughtered dozen upon dozen of havoc-making players. As Lestrade read the item's description, he smiled inwardly, knowing that this one item turned his chances at surviving the flock of players jumping at him from nil to complete.
Inspector_Lestrade swiftly reached into his pockets with both hands, removing two golden plate-looking objects, before outstretching his arms and shouting as he banged them together with all his might.
Instantly, a shockwave of power flew through the street, instantly obliterating the first dozen lines of players around Inspector_Lestrade, before greviously wounding the other dozens, shocking them as they stumbled to the ground from their wounds, jumping to their feet as soon as they could and running at Inspector_Lestrade, ready to avenge their fallen comrades, with their target ready to clang the Golden Gongs of Power once more, when suddenly, an ear-piercing siren sounded across the landscape, causing each player to freeze as the words "EMERGENCY!" blinked on their monitors, before their vision panned towards the ocean, where the waves suddenly became erratic, then parted as a massive, hulking figure emerged from the sea, looking to the sky and roaring as the words "BOSS FIGHT: HAXMAGEDDON!" replaced the earlier warning on each player's screen, before their vision was returned to first-person once more.
As each player's mind raced to understand what the warnings meant, their brains were given a jump-start as the gigantic black figure which had emerged from the ocean onto the shore of Engine Bay tore the Great Engine from its bearings and tossed it in the direction of No Man's Landing, where it smashed into the clock tower and leveled a series of buildings, killing dozens of players. As Lestrade's mind raced to figure out just what this NPC boss was, and how to defeat it, Inspector_Lestrade suddenly observed the streams of gold and items coming from the players killed in Town Square flying in large streams at the hulking creature, who suddenly burst into view, having jumped across the Evergreen Cliffs onto the outskirts of No Man's Landing, with the streams of gold flying into the hulking figure's chest, which seemed to have a massive fog-engine in the center. Just as Lestrade realized that this boss was, in fact, a player in a collosal mech, Haxmageddon suddenly turned and looked directly at Inspector_Lestrade, sending a chill down Lestrade's spine as the hulking brute of black spray-painted iron's dome-like head suddenly swiveled upwards, revealing a player in a black bodysuit with a silver utility belt, wearing a black-spray painted welder's mask with a green visor, his hair hastily slicked back on his head as the player laughed maliciously, before pointing a finger at Inspector_Lestrade.
"Yo! Lestrade! I'm here for the firewall!" The player arrogantly taunted as Lestrade read Haxmageddon's pilot's username: THE1&onlyHacker
Lestrade's blood (or rather, the Aether that flowed through his mechanical veins) ran cold as he realized that Haxmageddon's owner was none other than the same person who had "Hacked" the Rebellion firewall a month earlier, who had directly insulted Lestrade's programming prowess by leaving his mark on the destroyed firewall in the form of a passive-aggressive calling card. Fortunately, Nautilus had managed to fix the firewall, but afterward, had scolded Lestrade like a small child for his apparant "neglect" of the firewall, causing Lestrade to fume internally at the pompous hacker who had the audacity to interfere with Lestrade's life.
As Lestrade fumed at his adversary, THE1&onlyHacker removed a small, rectangular device from his pocket, then pointed it directly at Lestrade, pressing the big red button on top with vigour as Inspector_Lestrade involuntarily shuddered, before an item flew out of his inventory, unfolding in the street of No Man's Landing in the form of a ten-foot tall clear canister of Aether, with a metal base and lid, and a hand-written sticky note plastered on the front of the glass: Firewall
Cursing, Lestrade realized what Hacker had done. After the firewall incident, Nautilus had forced Lestrade to carry some sort of uplink to the firewall in his head at all times, something which, unbestknown to Lestrade, Hacker had managed to find, but had unable to procure, until he realized that this item was manifested in Inspector_Lestrade's inventory, and that the way to get to the firewall was through Lestrade's favorite videogame. Upon logging in, THE1&onlyHacker had hastily climbed inside Haxmageddon, his massive, overkill robot, and after locking onto Inspector_Lestrade's location, had hurried to No Man's Landing as fast as his mech would go, before activating a unique in-game relic, the Itemagnet, which would remove a singular player's item from their inventory, placing it onto the ground and keeping it their until either the owner of the item, or the Itemagnet's activator died.
Laughing arrogantly, THE1&onlyHacker slid Haxmageddon's cockpit closed once more, then raised his left arm, causing Haxmageddon's left arm to raise as well, with sheets of black metal sliding back as cogs and gears turned and meshed, revealing a gigantic machien gun, which proceeded to open fire on the landscape around Inspector_Lestrade, as Hacker's maniacal laugh emanated from the oversized speakers imbedded in Haxmageddon's shoulders, rattling buildings just from the noise as bullets exploded on the streets, causing Inspector_Lestrade to dive for cover, hiding in an alley as Haxmageddon stomped into No Man's Landing, pausing his rain of bullets as hordes of players, previously focused on beating up Inspector_Lestrade and ravaging the landscape just because, instead turned their attention on the Boss Fight, sending thousands of bolts of lighting, pillars of flame, torrents of water, projectiles of ice, arrows, bullets, knives, and every other type of weapon in between at Haxmageddon, as Hacker, still laughing, caused Haxmageddon's machine gun attachment to retreat into the metal plating of its left arm once more, before the entire section of metal spun, then opened, revealing a flame-thrower appendage, which Hacker proceeded to use to scorch the landscape, sending both builds and players ablaze as Haxmageddon took step after step closer to Inspector_Lestrade, and the firewall, oblivious to the chaos around it as it sat unfazed, patiently waiting for either THE1&onlyHacker or Inspector_Lestrade to die, with the other claiming the item as their own.
Finally, it reached a point where the hail of weapons was finally starting to have an impact of Haxmegeddon, annoying Hacker as he was forced to try out a different tactic.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, Haxmegeddon's metal skin suddenly shimmered, and Haxmegeddon disappeared. The hundreds of players on the landscape were stunned, not knowing what had just happened, until they heard a stifled chuckle emanate from all around them, before buildings suddenly collapsed around them. As the players ran for cover, the amused chuckle turned into arrogant laughter as the now-invisible Haxmageddon walked through No Man's Landing, stepping on building after building with its invisible feet. After less than a minute of this, buildings ceased collapsing under invisible weight, and all was still once more as players stood listening intently for the slightest sound which would signal Haxmageddon's presence.
Suddenly, the two buildings on either side of the alley Inspector_Lestrade had been hiding in were pushed aside by two massive, invisible hands, with Haxmageddon's invisibility gauge going empty as the massive brute of black metal came back into view, with Hacker shouting "HERE'S JOHNNYYY!" as the buildings were pushed aside, with the dust temporarily obscuring THE1&onlyHacker's vision as he peered into the alley, expecting to find Inspector_Lestrade cowering in fear on the cobbled floor, but instead, seeing nothing but garbage strewn across the alley.
As Hacker took in the scene below him, wondering where Inspector_Lestrade could have run off to, he heard a sound from his right, and turned to his right, eye level with the building where Inspector_Lestrade stood on the roof, holding an oversized vacuum-looking device. "Try this on for... size!" Lestrade shouted as he activated the Shrink Ray in his hands, which sent a shimmering, pulsing wave of energy at Hacker's mech, which shrunk a visible ten feet, before another pusle immediately followed the first, causing Haxmageddon to shrink another ten feet. Roaring in rage, THE1%onlyHacker caused Haxmageddon to backhand Inspector_Lestrade, sending him and his Shrink Ray flying through the air as Haxmageddon, now half the size he was before due to the several pulses of the Shrink Ray, torched the landscape all around him with his flamethrower, turning No Man's Landing into an inferno of fire as Inspector_Lestrade, still flying through the air, took his hoverboard out of his inventory mid-flight, grabbing onto it with one hand as he floated eye level with Haxmageddon.
Neither Hacker nor Lestrade made any moves as they stared each other in the eyes, mentally calculating what chances of victory they had against the other.
Glancing to the left of his view, Lestrade noticed that Inspector_Lestrade and THE1&onlyHacker were the only two players online, with the rest destroyed beyond all hope of survival as a result of the two programmers' battle.
Gritting his teeth, Hacker smiled as Haxmageddon's arms suddenly swung backwards, then forwards, then backwards once more, as the hulking mech crouched and sprung into the air with a forwards motion of its arms, spinning like a corkscrew in the air as the mech turned from an upright, humanoid form into a tank-like, vehicle form, Transformer-style, which raced towards Inspector_Lestrade as army-style trumpet sounds emanated from hidden speakers, with Haxmageddon's massive tank treads crushing anything in its path as it raced towards Inspector_Lestrade, who was still floating in the air above Haxmageddon, wondering why Hacker would try a ground attack when he was clearly in the air, when he got his answer in the form of the tank's sudden stop, causing the tank to unfurl as it tipped over, springboarding Haxmageddon in its mech form straight at Inspector_Lestrade, who had no time to move as Haxmageddon's massive black fist enclosed around him, with Haxmageddon landing back on the ground with an earthquake-inducing thud, as Hacker laughed maniacally, a sound which was amplified to hundreds of times its normal volume thanks to Haxmageddon's speakers, which served to taunt Inspector_Lestrade as he struggled in the iron grip of the black fist around him.
"That was fun." Hacker admitted, with Inspector_Lestrade gritting his teeth and giving Haxmageddon a defiant glare as the vise-like grip around him slowly tightened. "But now... you die. Bye-bye!" Hacker said as Haxmageddon's grip tightened to dangerous levels, causing Inspector_Lestrade's face to contort in pain as his ribs slowly yielded to the pressure of the metal vise around him. Suddenly, just as a normal player's ribs would have snapped, Inspector_Lestrade's body suddenly bulged like a balloon, then popped in an explosion of glitter, surprising Hacker, who was blinded for a few moments as the sun finally broke through the thick clouds of smoke and fog hovering high above No Man's Landing, his mind racing to find the answer as to what had just happened, when suddenly he got it. Spinning around in his cockpit, THE1&onlyHacker faced a smirking Inspector_Lestrade, who deftly roundhoused his adversary, send THE1&onlyHacker flying across the cockpit, with Haxmageddon doing the same, as Hacker didn't have the chance to de-activate movement replication mode, which was exactly Lestrade's plan, which he had put into action as soon as he had been hiding inside the alley, inflating a GlitterDecoy and arming it with a few weapons before hiding within the wreckage of the city, then climbing onto Haxmageddon when Hacker was distracted by battling the Decoy, breaking into the inner workings as soon as Hacker had the GlitterDecoy in his grasp.
Inspector_Lestrade quickly followed up his roundhouse with a flip, a roll, and a punch, but Hacker was ready this time, blocking the punch with his forearm before flipping backwards, then spreading his arms wide, as metallic, spider-like legs sprouted from his backpack, turning THE1&onlyHacker into a tarantula as he used the legs to stay high above Inspector_Lestrade as he used his six remaining metallic appendages in a flurry of stabbing, slicing, and whipping, with Lestrade having to double-time his movements as Hacker slowly upped the intensity of his movements bit by bit, until his spider legs were a blur beneath him, as Inspector_Lestrade barely managed to block each appendage in time to dodge another.
Finally, Lestrade saw his chance, and dove underneath THE1&onlyHacker's metallic legs, leaping onto his back as the flimsy legs buckled under his weight, then sticking a knife into the metallic backpack where the spider-like legs came from, causing it to smoke and fizzle as the metallic legs slowly went limp. Not giving Hacker a chance to recover, Inspector_Lestrade grabbed one of the dead metallic legs nearby, then whirled his adversary in circles and circles, building up momentum, before throwing him out of the cockpit window, shattering the glass of Haxmageddon's domed head as THE1&onlyHacker flew out of the window, with Inspector_Lestrade leaping out as well, landing on THE1&onlyHacker and furiously pummeling him over and over, as Hacker struggled to fight back, when suddenly, Inspector_Lestrade's eyes flitted to the ground beneath them, with a smile breaking onto his lips as THE1&onlyHacker craned his neck to see what Inspector_Lestrade was looking at, giving Lestrade just the chance he needed to flip Hacker's avatar onto his belly mid-air, just as they crashed into the roof of a tall No Man's Landing building, with THE1&onlyHacker recieving hit after hit as the momentum of falling from such a tall height caused him to crash through all ten stories of the building, one after another, breaking piece after piece of Hacker's armor, as he could only scream in rage.
Finally, THE1&onlyHacker crashed face-down onto the first floor, with Inspector_Lestrade kneeling on top of him. Lestrade watched for any sort of movement from Hacker's avatar, but upon finding none, snorted and turned on his heels, about to walk out of the building, when he heard a rasping chuckle from behind him. Whipping around, Inspector_Lestrade observed a battered and bruised THE1&onlyHacker raising his head to look Lestrade's avatar in the eyes, with Hacker's avatar's welder's mask breaking in half upon landing on solid ground, revealing THE1&onlyHacker's cat-like eyes, which glared piercingly at Inspector_Lestrade, and his mouth, which curved upwards in an evil smile despite his bloody mouth and missing teeth.
"You... lose." Hacker managed to say, spitting out blood and chuckling darkly as the form of Haxmageddon rose on the horizon, pointing both its arms at Inspector_Lestrade, as every weapon attached to Haxmageddon fired at once, a last-ditch effort from Hacker to ensure that both THE1&onlyHacker and Inspector_Lestrade went down together, with Hacker apparently deciding that if he couldn't have the firewall, he would just have to destroy it instead.
Literally thousands of projectiles filled the sky as Haxmageddon used the last of its energy to fire all its remaining bullets at Inspector_Lestrade, along with every missile, arrow, laser, and misfit projectile it had at its disposal.
Inspector_Lestrade stood motionless for a few long moments, speechless at the rain of projectiles which blotted out the sky above him, before leaping to action and running as fast as he could, dodging bullets and lasers alike as Inspector_Lestrade raced against time to protect the firewall. Suddenly, a bullet hit Lestrade's avatar's shoulder, but Lestrade ignored it as he pushed Inspector_Lestrade to run as fast as he could, faster than he'd ever ran before, while ignoring the lasers which burned his skin, the arrows which pierced his clothes, the bullets which burst into his flesh, and the missiles which exploded around him. Just as Inspector_Lestrade was within ten feet of the firewall, Haxmageddon stumbled, then released its last weapon: A massive, industrial nuclear missile from the tank-like cannon on its back, which, upon firing, sent Haxmageddon reeling from the recoil, falling into a crash it would never recover from.
As the missile raced at breakneck speeds towards the firewall, Inspector_Lestrade leapt the remaining distance to the purple canister which was the in-game representation of the Rebellion firewall, rolling the last few feet after landing and crouching in front of the firewall just as the nuclear missile came within twenty feet of the firewall, with Lestrade activating his trump card just as the missile would've reached the firewall.
What followed was a massive explosion of radioactive substance, sending toxic waste flying over the landscape as the nuclear bomb leveled the entirety of No Man's Landing, collapsing buildings and blowing over tree after tree within the blink of an eye, as a gargantuan mushroom cloud billowed over the once-thriving port town.
Nothing escaped the blast.
Except... for one thing.
Several long minutes later, as the ash gently fell from the sky, Inspector_Lestrade came to at the base of the firewall, his body aching as a delayed reaction to his earlier battle with Hacker. Checking the left of his battle display, Lestrade noticed that he was the only player left, revealing that Hacker had killed his avatar in the blast that he had hoped would kill Inspector_Lestrade and the firewall as well. Fortunately, Hacker hadn't counted on Inspector_Lestrade's special device: The Big Bubbler, an impenetrable force field that could only be activated or deactivated from the inside, which would shield anybody inside from enemy attacks, but would still allow them to attack any who oppose them from the outside.
Not losing a moment, Inspector_Lestrade hesitatingly turned his head, facing the firewall, which stood unfazed from the blast, with the only damage on the firewall being from the flurry of bullets Haxmageddon had sent as the first of the last weapons it had used as a last-ditch effort. Letting out a deep breath he didn't know he had been holding, Lestrade reached to his right and unplugged the wire from his ear, laying it on the table as he took a much-needed drink of Aetherpop, guzzling the entire canister before wiping his mouth with his arm and tossing the can behind him, laughing more in relief than mirth as Lestrade back in his office chair, then leaned forwards once more, using a few keystrokes to cause Inspector_Lestrade to remove the firewall from the battlefield, placing it in his inventory once more before Lestrade logged out, closing the laptop as he leaned back in his chair, chuckling at the thought of what frustration Hacker must be experiencing at this very moment.
Lucky couldn't believe the frustration he was experiencing at this very moment.
Here he was, supervising Hacker, who had agreed to place a virus in the Rebellion's newly articifial intelligence-governed firewall, done some research, and discovered that the only was to complete his job was to make use of a videogame, of all things, and after a long battle, had miserably failed at his task, something which Lucky simply fumed at.
And, if that wasn't enough, Hacker was now laughing hysterically in his chair, tears streaming from his eyes as he was forced to take off his mask to wipe his eyes.
The incompetance of this young, disowned fool.
"You've failed." Lucky darkly said, snapping his fingers as two Lashers menacingly rolled from the dark recesses of the room, but was surprised to see Hacker raise his gaze to Lucky's, a twisted smile on his face.
"Au contraire, Emperor." Hacker said, getting to his feet as he dusted his shirt off, then stared Lucky dead in the eye as he delivered his final verdict:
And, indeed, he was right. If Lestrade had taken but a moment to more closely inspect the item in his inventory, he may have noticed that one of the bullets which had lightly peppered the firewall's surface was slightly different from the others, resembling a metallic spider with a foggy hourglass symbol on its back, a factor which made all the difference, due to the fact that the metallic spider's fangs had bitten deep into the Aether-filled canister's glass surface, penetrating the otherwise airtight seal, as gentle streams of fog filtered like venom from the two fangs, streams which were quickly repelled by the Aether inside, but it was only a matter of time until the fog was simply too much for the Aether to contend with, and the firewall would submit to the virus.
Hacker's job was to place a virus in the AI-protected firewall.
And he had done that.
Within three days, the Rebellion's firewall would be no more.
Hacker couldn't wait to see the look on Lestrade's face.