TriOctium

Gratuitous Mecha Carnage II: Electric Boogaloo

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It was a hot day.
 
Large crowds of foreign dignitaries milled into the stadium, eagerly chattering away in anticipation of the show that was about to be performed in front of their very eyes. Soldiers in towering suits of metal and kevlar stood by the various entrances, hefting impressive guns as a warning to anyone who might threaten to disturb the peace. It was of utmost importance that nothing went wrong today, for it was the unveiling of the United States's latest superweapon to the world.
 
ExoSuit ESX-58, "Spectre".
 
It had been nearly 15 years since the megacorporation, FutureTech Industries, revealed the first ExoSuit. Even back then, it was an astounding breakthrough in technology, providing innumerable advantages to the average soldier. Super strength, enhanced battlefield awareness and invulnerability to conventional firearms were three of its numerous selling points. The ExoSuit changed the landscape of war, rendering traditional strategies and weaponry useless. The US and Chinese militaries imported vast numbers of these ExoSuits, hoping to equip every soldier with one by the year 2050.
 
Since then, there have been countless improvements made to the original ExoSuit, with each country going on its own developmental path to create their unique breed of super soldier. Demonstrations such as these were a show of might, a way of waging war without harming lives. Deterrence, in a way. That was the reason why so many world leaders were gathered at Phoenix, Arizona to witness the demonstration this day.
 
It would take a fool to interrupt such a heavily-guarded event.

 


 

"AS-08X, Seraph Excalibur, in position. Operation Ghostbuster will commence in T-minus 10 seconds. 9. 8. 7..."
 
As the applause from the audience began to fill the air, a lone figure moved out of the shadows and approached the entrance to the grand stadium. It resembled an ExoSuit in a way, but its features were more sleek, almost alien-like. Streaks of blue light trailed behind the suit reminiscent of wings, and the suit hovered in the air, its feet just a few inches off the ground. The guards on duty raised their gauss rifles, training them upon the newcomer with honed lethality.
 
"Halt! Identify yourself!" One of them spoke, as he slowly approached the figure. The other seemed to be speaking into a microphone, presumably calling for reinforcements.
 
The figure halted, allowing the soldier to reach within arms' length. "Turn around and put your hands up- hey!"
 
Moving faster than the eye could see, the Seraph Excalibur darted to the right as the soldier in the ES-22 "Gallant" suit fired off a few rounds, turning around to follow its movements. As the soldier raised his gun, there was a flash and an arc of light, and then his arm lay severed on the ground, the gauss rifle landing with a great crash. He barely had time to scream, however, as the next slash took his head cleanly off, leaving him to kneel down and collapse in a pool of blood.
 
"Mayday! Mayday! Unknown hostile at entrance 15! We need backup- AAARGGHH!"
 
The Seraph Excalibur pulled the plasma blade out of the soldier's abdomen, dropping his corpse onto the ground with a lazy action. "Going in," the man in the suit whispered.
 
The whole stadium was in disarray now, as the sounds of the battle outside reached some of the audience. More soldiers were running here and there, evidently attempting to control the situation as they dispatched more men to the scene. Their reactions were too slow. The Seraph Excalibur flew into the middle of the stage, where the new suit was located. The Spectre. To the pilot's credit, he seemed pretty calm despite all the confusion in the area. As the newcomer floated down to meet him, he raised a large pistol and pointed it straight at his forehead.
 
"I don't know who you are, buddy, but you picked the wrong place to make a scene," he declared. "By doing this, you have incurred the wrath of the entire United States upon yourself. Not that you'll be alive for much longer. I am, after all, Richard Stone, one of America's ace pilots, in my country's most advanced ExoSuit. I don't know how your magic suit can maintain propulsion for so long, but it's not going to save you from me." About twenty guns were trained on him at this point of time, with the soldiers forming a wide arc around the dome-shaped stage.
 
"... You're noisy."
 
A vein popped in Richard's head. "What did you say?! Who the hell do you think you are anyway?!" His finger pulled the trigger-
 
The Seraph had weaved to the side, a plasma blade extending from each hand as it advanced upon his adversary. Immediately, every soldier on the scene opened fire, but not a single shot found its mark. Whether by skill or ungodly luck, the Seraph was moving in fluid motions that avoided each bullet as it approached, rapidly advancing upon the Spectre as it tried to retreat to gain distance. Impossible, Richard thought, as he emptied his pistol's magazine at him in vain. Such speed! It's as though he can see where I'm going to fire...
 
With a burst of light, the Seraph appeared next to him in an instant. Richard barely had time to react, whipping his hand away as the MC-198 Magnum he was holding dropped to the ground in pieces. He swore, reaching for the next weapon- but he felt a searing pain and a violent shock, and then he noticed the gaping hole where his arm was supposed to be. A hand grabbed him by the neck, and he felt himself being raised up into the air as it became difficult to breathe...
 
He noticed the firing had stopped. Did someone else take out the soldiers? But Richard had more pressing matters at hand, as he struggled to wrestle himself free from the Seraph's iron grip. He realized the whole stadium had become silent, as all eyes were fixated on the scene in the center of the stage. The Seraph reached over to his suit, plucking out the microphone that was attached to the stadium's loudspeakers and moved it to his mouth.
 
"I am Vengeance."
 
And then he snapped Richard's neck.

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The Sahara Desert, 28 July 2051, 1200 GMT

The sun hung high in the sky, baking the endless expanse of sand dunes with waves of roiling heat. This was a place never meant for humans to tread -- even before the climate upheavals of the early 21st century had bumped temperatures and sea levels up by a small but significant margin, the unforgiving temperatures of the Sahara could kill a man in hours.

And yet, the tranquillity of the empty desert was broken by the staccato rhythm of armored boots on sand -- a team of seven men, all clad in desert-camouflaged ExoSuits, were traversing the dunes, seemingly heedless of the wind, sand and heat. Upon their shoulders were the insignia of the Russian ExoSuit Corps, and slung across their backs were heavy Gauss rifles, each able to spit a stream of fletchettes that would shred the heaviest of ExoSuit armor.

These men, however, were no Russians. They were private military contractors, a part of the legions of hired muscle FutureTech employed. They had been dispatched with one objective in mind: a nearby group of nomads had seen evidence of one of FutureTech's more sensitive projects, and to preserve the corporation's secrets, every man, woman and child would have to be silenced. Preferably with bullet holes.

Unbeknownst to them, the kill team was not alone in this empty wasteland. From the vantage point of a dune two miles away, a lone figure watched them advance, waiting for the right moment to strike.

'Prophet 1, Tiresias reporting in. Do you copy? Over.'

'Tiresias, this is Prophet 1. We copy, loud and clear.'

'FutureTech mercenaries are entering the engagement area. 7 of them as vanguard, with another 7 waiting in reserve. Permission to engage, over.'

'Permission granted. Commence Operation Antlion in 10... 9...8...7...

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Something had been gnawing at Patrick Le Sand the whole day. The task they had been assigned was straightforward -- wipe out all witnesses to Project Nephilim at some pathetic bunch of canvas tents. In other words, just another day at work. However, he just couldn't shake off the thought that someone had been watching them for the last hour.

A glint of silver caught his eye. Activating the magnification lens within his suit's visor, he took a closer look; what he saw was a strange silvery ball small enough to fit comfortably in his palm, hanging in midair without any visible means of support.

Clearly, the stress of work was getting to his head. Maybe he should have listened to his old man's advice and taken over his bakery. He didn't have time for that now, though. Protecting FutureTech secrets was paramount -- one soldier's midlife crisis couldn't be allowed to get in the way.

He switched on his comms and spoke. "Bravo Team, you are in range of the target. Fire your neutron missiles at the designated coordinates. Over."

"Wilco, over." A voice crackled back. Was it just him, or was the signal more spotty today? He was already starting to fantasize about fresh-baked croissants.

He looked up, and saw a salvo of missiles streaking into the sky several miles away. Those missiles simplified his job so greatly -- they'd give anyone outside an ExoSuit within half a mile a lethal dose of radiation. All Patrick and his team had to do was saunter in and shoot anyone who was still twitching.

Then, the sky lit up. Patrick gazed upwards, and to his horror, realized that that the explosions above him were all that were left of the missiles. His hunch was right, it seemed.

Screw this, I'm outta here. I'm going back to Paris and opening my own little patisserie. I wonder what I should call it.

"Bravo Team, Bravo Team, do you read me? All missiles were intercepted by unknown agents. I repeat, all missiles intercepted."

Nothing greeted him but white noise. He repeated his statement another couple of time, each time to no avail. This was just getting worse and worse.

He raised his gauss rifle to his shoulder, scanning for signs of their unseen attackers. Nothing. He even glanced upwards briefly, though the idea of an aerial attack seemed ludicrous -- he'd have picked up any aircraft on sensors ages ago, and even the Flanker, most agile of all new-generation suits, could only sustain short leaps with its vectored thrusters. There was no way that expanding dot he saw in the sun's direction was an ExoSuit-

He had only just enough time to squeak in shock before six hundred kilograms of armored machinery slammed foot-first into his face, knocking him into a daze and sending him hurtling backwards into a sand dune.

Two of his men went down immediately after; their suits instantly sliced into bloody chunks by some unknown weapon. Patrick finally regained enough presence of mind to lift his head, and saw the face of his enemy.

It was the largest ExoSuit he had ever seen; at three meters tall, it was more a walking tank than powered armor. Yet, despite its bulk, its contours were smooth and sinuous, even subtly organic. A horn, perhaps an antenna of some sort, stretched from its oddly animalistic face, and two massive pylons extended above its shoulders, increasing its massive stature even more. The entire suit was not painted in camouflage colors -- instead, it was an eye-catching shade of crimson accentuated with gold and black, as if it were a sports car instead of a weapon of war.

Immediately, every surviving member of the squad opened fire, peppering the suit with a hail of steel. And yet, the strange suit didn't go down; in fact, even its blinged-out paint job seemed untouched. He heard a strange whizzing noise, and another two of his comrades fell, dismembered by whatever weapon it was that resided within the monster's arms.

In a moment of genre savviness, the squad decided that continuing to fire would end like how these situations always ended in the movies, and lowered their weapons, pulling out their combat knives and charging. The square cube law was a harsh mistress, Patrick decided. A suit that large would have trouble going any faster than a walk, let alone keep up with a top-of-the-line ExoSuit like the Russian-designed Flanker his team used.

He was very quickly proven wrong when the first soldier to close the distance was met with a swift kick to the chest. There was the sickening crunch of his ribcage shattering, and the broken body was hurled backwards for several meters. Impossible! How could something that big move faster than a Flanker?!

The next soldier got close enough to take a swipe at the suit, but with impossible grace, the suit suddenly floated several feet backwards, and raised its arm to fire its weapon. Nigh-instantly, the unfortunate soldier fell apart, sliced to pieces by a series of clean cuts.

Patrick was now alone against this monster. It was all or nothing now -- he would have to defeat this thing in a single strike, or it would kill him. He had the advantage of surprise - the pilot must have assumed him dead, and had his massive back facing him. He disengaged the safety limiters with a whispered command, and rushed towards the suit with the Flanker's vectored thrust jets at full blast, heedless of the G-Forces pressing into his eyeballs and making his vision narrow to a tunnel-

And just before impact, he was suddenly blinded by a blue light, and his knife passed through empty space.

Then, he heard another whizzing noise, and his legs fell off.

The enemy suit touched down on the ground behind him, landing with nary a whisper despite its bulk.

"Finish it," Patrick snarled. There was no honor in being left a cripple here -- being left to face the judgement of his employers for his failure. Better to die a hero than face a future of shame.

He heard a strangely modulated noise, and slowly came to realize what it was. The pilot of that enemy suit was laughing.

"No." The pilot said, and despite his face being hidden behind that monstrous, four-eyed helmet, Patrick could imagine the smirk on his face.

"At least tell me... Who the fuck are you?"

"We are your reckoning. We are Vengeance." Before he could ask what he meant, the back of the mysterious suit lit up with twin coronas of blue light, and it rose into the sky with surprising alacrity, vanishing behind the horizon as suddenly as it had came.

Patrick turned a hollow, haunted gaze upon the bloodied remains of his comrades, and at the stumps of his legs, severed at the knees. He would live -- the cuts were strangely clean, and the Flanker had a self-sealing foam injection system that would stop the bleeding fairly efficiently -- but in all likelihood he would never pilot again. It was a cruel mercy that the pilot had shown Patrick.One can run a patisserie without legs, right?

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Ankara, Turkey, 28 July 2051, 1200 GMT

“Mr. Kiliç, we should arrive at the President’s office in fifteen minutes,†she said as she took note of the time on her wristwatch.

When word that no one other than Saladin Kiliç would be visiting the President and Prime-Minister of Turkey today had spread, many citizens decided that today would not be a great day to leave the safety of their homes. The streets were empty, save for a straggler or two and a black limousine and its escort. The limousine, and the four Humvees that served as its escort, slowly made way for the presidential palace.

Inside of the limousine were the driver, Saladin Kiliç, his aide and two soldiers from his PMC. PMC Nizari was well known as one of the many PMCs who were backed by and operated under FutureTech. This had led to much controversy within Turkey and it took the Turkish government many weeks of deliberation before they had decided to meet with Saladin, the president of PMC Nizari.

Saladin uncomfortably shifted in his seat as he tried to unstick himself from the leather, before nodding in acknowledgement of his aide. The combination of his business suit, the scorching hot weather and leather seats had made it an increasingly bothersome trip, but declining an invitation from the Turkish Head of State would surely anger the higher-ups in FutureTech. He didn’t care much for politics in the first place. The only thing that ever crossed Saladin’s mind was how to use the current state of the world to make even more money.

Luckily this visit would more than likely take no longer than an hour or two.


The sound of metallic footsteps echoed through the otherwise silent streets as a lone figure walked up to the middle of the road. He turned to face the direction of incoming traffic and rested his left arm on the hilt of the HF Musashi at his hip. He stood perfectly still for several minutes, until prompted into action by the sound of an approaching roaring engine. He commenced mentally counting down the seconds until the first of the cars came around the corner while tapping the container at his thigh.

The first Humvee came around the corner and skid to a halt at the sight of the grey and black unknown ExoSuit. The second Humvee and the limousine behind it followed, all of them stopping at the sight of the unknown ExoSuit. “Move or I will open fire.†The soldier manning the Humvee’s turret shouted, hoping to scare off the stranger. “This is our final warning!†It didn’t work. The figure took a step forward and without hesitation the mercenary pulled the trigger on his turret and began firing.

The bullets struck the ground the stranger stood one a mere second ago, but their guest was no longer in their sight. In a flash of black and grey it had moved to the side of the Humvee and took a crouching position, with on knee of the ground and the other foot on its toes. A loud bang resonated through the area when the assailant triggered the firing mechanism on his sword’s saya. The katana pulled out at insane speed and a red slash cut through the air, cutting off the upper half of the foremost Humvee while also decapitating the driver and the passengers. The mercenary at the turret had only lost his legs, but a second cut from the HF Musashi divided him in two and added his blood to the red exhibition.

After witnessing the spectacle the limousine quickly went into its reverse and tried to escape while the Humvees behind it followed its trail. The gunman of the second Humvee fired at the assailant hoping he’d be able to strike true, but it took less than a second for the assailant to reach the back of the gunman and stab his blade through his back and out of his chest. A spray of blood poured out of the gaping wound in his chest and with his last breath the soldier coughed out the blood gathered in his lungs. The soldiers inside the vehicle tried to take out their opponent by shooting through the Humvees roof, but the bullets bounced off the ExoSuit as they were shot by toy guns. A series of downward horizontal slashes cut through the roof of the vehicle like butter and painted the inside of the Humvee with the blood and brains of its passengers.

“So much fun,†he said as he sheathed his sword and took a look in the direction the Saladin’s limousine had fled in. By now it was long out of sight. “I love playing hide and seek!†A red aureole formed at the back of his ExoSuit and he slowly soared up into the sky. Once he had gotten high enough to have a clear vision of all the nearby streets it was simply a matter of time before he spotted the limousine and its two Humvee guards. “Ready or not,†he dove down like an eagle heading straight for its prey and made sure to land on the limousine, directly on top of the driver, effectively crashing through the limousine’s roof and crushing him with a sickening crunch of his bones.

The limousine spun out of control due to the impact and crashed against one of the buildings, but not before he had the chance to jump off and engage the two Humvees right behind him. The mercenaries thought they had learned their lesson and quickly jumped out of the Humvee, having recognized the vehicles as nothing more than moving steel coffins against this adversary. “Hahaha! Interesting!†The mercenaries did not plan on engaging him in melee combat, they opted to use their gauss rifles to fill him with bullets, but quickly took note that their aim could not keep up with the speed the exosuit.

Several flashes of the red blade were quickly followed by cries of agony, severed limbs, sprays of blood and before long the final eight mercenaries of PMC Nizari who stood in his way had been put to rest in one more of his red demonstrations. Before he could leave, he had to make sure that his mission was a success. He approached the crashed limousine, stood on its roof and ripped open the part directly above its passengers. He counted four people; Saladin, his aide and the two bodyguards. The four of them were all still dazed and reeling from the pain of the impact, but other than a few bruises they were mostly unharmed. Without saying a word, or any hesitation, he drew his handgun and fired shots through the heads of the mercenaries and Saladin Kiliç, covering their seats with blood and chunks of their brains.

He pointed the gun at Saladin’s aide and fired, missing only by a hair before reaching out into the car and lifted up the aide as if she was made out of air. He unceremoniously tossed her away, hopped off the car and slowly approached her. With the sun behind him he cast a menacing shadow over her. She raised her hands in front of her face, as if to protect her, but the constant shaking in her hands gave away her fear. “Who are you? What do you want? Please, please don’t-â€

“We want freedom and justice,†he holstered his weapon and the red aureole appeared behind his suit, giving the silhouette she saw a mesmerizing added effect. “We are Vengeance.†With a burst of speed the suit shot into the air and flew out of her sight in seconds. Still trembling she fell down on all fours and breathed a sigh of relief, thanking God that she was still alive, but when she regained her composure and took note of the blood covering the street she knew that it was time to go find a new employer.

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"Status report."

 

"Target is eliminated. Uploading the virus now."

 

"How's he doing?"

 

"I'd say a little rusty. But don't tell him that."

 

A seemingly ordinary Exosuit looked down on the stadium grounds from the control tower overlooking the site. He had had a fine view of Seraph's little performance while he waited. His finger was plugged into the main terminal, where a progress bar filled on the screen. Slumped in the corner was another Exosuit, lifeless. Finally, the progress bar completed, and all the monitors around the stadium went black. After a moment, words appeared on all the screens: Vengeance has come.

 

"Virus is uploaded. Time to go, Seraph."

 

The Exosuit jumped up on the control panel and crashed through the window, as it faded from visibility. Of course, no ordinary Exosuit could do that...

 

Glass rained down from above. The soldiers looked upward but could see nothing. "Control Tower do you copy? Control? Something-" They were interrupted as invisible blades stabbed through the tops of their skulls, piercing their Exosuit armour like the inferior material it was. The two bodies crumpled and a thud was heard as the invisible Angel Suit landed. Most of the military personnel on the grounds were focused on the Seraph still, so the pilot of the [Agent] deactivated his invisibility and blended into the chaos.

 

By now fighter jets had been scrambled, and could be heard approaching. [Agent]'s jamming systems were already active though, and the jets were unable to engage. Their targeting capabilities were neutralized, and they were not cleared to engage with manual targeting while civilians were still present within the stadium. All they could do was swoop back and forth overhead.

 

[Agent] put his arm around one of the passing Exosuits and swiftly connected his fingers to a port at the back of its neck, disabling it so that he could herd it away from sight. He quickly took what data he needed before extending his hidden wristblade through its neck. What he took was current location data for the Exosuit units in the area - particularly the commanding officer. He transmitted the data to Seraph, before heading for the commanding officer himself.

 

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

"What do you mean you can't hit it? Don't give me that guff, it's one Exosuit!" the commander shouted into his comm channel. [Agent] approached him at the command tent, where he was attempting to coordinate the defense efforts.

 

"What're you doing here? What unit are you from?" he demanded.

 

"I'm here to assume command. I'm from Vengeance." [Agent] explained, pouncing on the commander and connecting to his data port, disabling his suit before he knew what was happening.

 

"I am under attack, reinforce the command tent! Do you copy? DO YOU COPY?" the commander shouted inside his suit, but his communication systems were no longer picking up his voice. Instead, they were connected to [Agent] now, and its pilot issued his own orders under the commander's transmission signal: "All units withdraw. I repeat, all units withdraw. We're pulling out."

 

[Agent] withdrew his finger connectors from the commander's suit and patted him on the head. "Good decision, commander. You've just saved many lives with that call." the commander growled and made to object, but [Agent] hushed him. "Shhh. You don't know what you're up against. It is just fortunate our objective isn't to massacre everyone here. You do have to die though, you've seen too much of what I can do."

 

"YOU F-" the commander's dying curse was stifled by a blade through his throat.

 

The remaining Exosuits began withdrawing, and the fighter jets returned to base.

 

"Mission accomplished, returning home." [Agent] faded from visibility once again.

 

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28 July 2051, 1300 GMT, the Mediterranean Sea

It was another of those hot, clear Mediterranean summers. The sky was cloudless and a vivid deep blue, and the sky was clear save for a few tiny wisps of cloud. Below this picturesque sky was nothing but the open expanse of the Mediterranean, with not an island in sight all the way to the horizon. As far as anyone was concerned, this was just another anonymous patch of ocean, devoid of any significance unless some ship carrying a valuable cargo trawled its way across these waters.

However, the sea wasn't as empty as it may have seemed -- while from the surface, one saw nothing but lapping waves, if one peered to the very limits of their vision, they might have made out a sleek, dark shape, silently lurking in the water like some mysterious beast of the deep.

And if one managed to peer down beneath the waves, descending to a hundred feet where this leviathan resided, one would have beheld a magnificent sight -- a huge, unconventionally-designed submarine like a manta ray two hundred meters wide from wingtip to wingtip, more a submerged city than a mere vessel of the depths.

This was the Avalon, largest submersible ever built and the home base of Vengeance.

Above the waves, a faint blue dot appeared over the horizon, near-invisible against the hue of the sky. It approached the location of the Avalon, its form coming into clear sight -- a crimson and black-armored giant, with two ports on either side of its back lit up with coronas of bluish light. The light faded, and the machine descended, slipping into the water with hardly a splash and descending into the abyss towards the submarine. Upon the vast dorsal side of the Avalon, a hatch slid open, and the mech sank in, the hatch immediately closing behind it.

Aboard the Avalon, a young woman's voice echoed over a PA system. "Retrieval successful. AS-028 Juggernaut Hecatonchires has landed in Bay 10."

...

Werner walked out of the bay, one hand wiping off the sweat upon what little of his face remained unexposed by his mask. With every step he took, a quiet little whir emanated from the joints of the black-and-red piloting suit covering him from head to toe -- not only did it provide life support and protection to its user; in his case, it was the only thing keeping him walking at all.

A familiar face emerged from around the corner -- a woman in her late twenties, with shoulder-length light brown hair pulled back into a ponytail, steel-framed glasses perched on the bridge of her nose, a shapely, attractive figure and wearing a black bomber jacket over the standard grey mission control crew's fatigues. "How did it go, big guy?" she asked casually, tapping on the paper-thin touchscreen she held in one hand.

"Ha," Werner chuckled. "You're in charge of Hecatonchires' telemetry, Clara. In all probability, you know my bio-data better than I do. Intimately."

Dr. Clara Braun, chief mechanic and mission control specialist of the small team that kept the Juggernaut running, holder of a Ph.D in particle physics and former test pilot of the original AS-02 prototype. Truly a veritable Renaissance woman, a quality which Werner found irresistibly attractive. Unfortunately, he'd already asked her out thrice, all to no avail -- but the fruit hanging out of reach was all the sweeter, in his eyes.

Clara tapped at her PDA, ignoring his obvious pick-up line. "And it says here that you didn't expend a single one of Hecatonchires' micro-missiles. And chose to destroy all twenty-one missiles and fourteen Flanker-class ExoSuits using your secondary monofilament projectors." Her eyebrow twitched in annoyance. "Show-off."

"Ammunition costs money, ma'am," Werner replied in a complete deadpan tone. "It costs four hundred thousand dollars to fire those fancy-schmancy guided missiles for two seconds."

"Regardless, you should have gone with our original plan. Simple beyond visual range engagement; fourteen dead FutureTech mercs, mission complete in seven seconds." She sighed. "And you just had to showboat, pouncing on them like you're piloting a bloody Blitz. And what the hell were you thinking, leaving that last guy alive?"

"You're not seeing the big picture, Clara." Werner said with a wide grin. "Vengeance's chief weapons are fear and surprise. That and a bunch of magic power suits armed to the teeth, at least. What I've done right there is to leave a witness -- a panicked, traumatized man's eyewitness account. A little message to that poor sod's bosses. A psychological attack, if you will -- making them know that out there lies an unseen enemy -- a phantom menace -- that could bring judgement upon their little outfit like the wrath of God."

Clara nodded in understanding. "You've got a point. You'd leave them fearful and paranoid. Paralyze them with indecision." But then, her eyes narrowed a little. "Then why'd you shoot off his legs? You could have just gallivanted into the distance right there."

A grin spread across Werner's face -- one with entirely too many teeth. "An eye for an eye, ma'am. They ruined my life, ruined my career -- just because I had the nerve to stand up for what I believed in." His fist clenched tightly, servos in his piloting suit whirring as they squeezed down. "So I'm merely repaying the favor. With interest, this time."

"That's pretty cold of you. Some of those guys are just pawns in Mauro's game. They don't see the big picture of things, and just want their paychecks to send Faceless Mook Jr. to college or something."

"Well, if it helps, that guy's still alive. If he'd tried, he'd probably be able to get back right up on his feet." A moment of silence fell, and he scratched his chin in contemplation. "Wait. I cut them off, didn't I..."

"All that dramatic posturing, all to spring that pun on me." Clara chuckled. "This is exactly why you'll never get laid."

"Someday my overwhelming manliness shall melt your icy heart, ma'am. It's only a matter of time."

"You're incorrigible." she groaned, putting a palm to her face.

"Why should I try changing what's perfect to begin with?" Just before he could coax another response out of Clara, the PA system sounded again. "AS-037 Blitz Ronin is at 20 kilometers and closing. Prepare for retrieval. Operating depth will decrease to 20 m." Around them, the ship hummed, and Werner felt the slightest of pushes as the ship started rising through the dark waters.

"Let's go. I'd dearly like to find out how my buddy Rainn did on his little Turkish jaunt."

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“Retrieval successful. AS-037 Blitz Ronin in Bay 13.â€

Rainn stepped out of Bay 13 dressed in his black and grey piloting suit fully aware of what awaited him in Avalon. A girl, roughly his age, with long blonde hair, amber eyes and a deadpan stare stood leaning against the wall, waiting for him to exit. She silently handed over a pair of thick rimmed blue glasses which Rainn eagerly accepted before dropping them on his nose. “I still don’t understand why you even bother with that thing. Even before your modifications you had 20/20 vision.†Her voice was soft, monotone and devoid of any emotion.

“Who cares?†A mischievous grin appeared on Rainn’s face. “Hey, I took some pictures during the mission. Have to say that I was pretty badass! I’ll upload them once I dock at the lab and you can see for yourself. Tonight I’m going to dream of the look of terror on that girl’s face. Shit was so cash!†As Rainn continued reveling in his previous mission the girl punched something into the tablet she was carrying. “Hey, are you listening? Feels like I’m talking to a wall here?†No response. “Hey, earth to Cassi!â€

“Shut up,†she turned her tablet to show Rainn a first person video recording of the last seconds of the mission from his perspective. The moment when he spoke to the aide right before flying off. “This girl? Why is she still alive? Your mission was to kill everyone associated with Nizari. If you suddenly grew a conscience you should tell me now so I can take necessary action.â€

“If it’s a conscience you’re worried about; don’t be. Endlessly slaughtering losers has been fun, but I am getting bored with it. I figured now would be the perfect time to put up a show and leave a witness, since Seraph has been sent out to announce our existence. Can’t let him take all the credit, can I? Anyway, how did the others do?â€

“Didn’t check, but since I haven’t heard anyone complaining about someone fucking up their missions I think it is safe to assume everyone is still alive.â€

Rainn blew out some air through his nose before taking a long exaggerated yawn. “How boring. Guess it was another slow day for Vengeance, huh? This job would be so much more interesting, so much more thrilling if there was danger. Can you imagine if the FutureTech goons had suits like ours? Can you imagine how awesome these battles would be? How satisfying it would be to hold their skulls between my hands and crush up while relishing the fear in their eyes.†Rainn held his hands in front of him, imaging actually holding a person’s skull, while talking.

“Good, you’re still a psychopath.†She put away the tablet and started walking down the hall. “It’s time for your debriefing. Werner should also be there.â€

“Coming, Cassi.†Rainn took a few quick steps to catch up to Cassandra before slowing down to a normal pace. They walked past many familiar faces, most of them mission control crew members identifiable by the uniform that they wore. As soon as they realized Cassandra Snow, chief engineer and official head of the ‘Ronin Project, was walking past them they dropped whatever they were doing to salute her. Rainn almost grew a bit jealous of all the attention his handler got.

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"Welcome back, Takeshi."

 

A boy with an oil-stained shirt rolled out from underneath a brown Bentley as he sat up to look at the man who was just walking into the car repair workshop, flashing him a grin. The man named Takeshi gave him a lazy glance, scratched his nose, and nodded in recognition of him before walking off towards the door that would lead into the office. There, he'd settle into his nice, cozy chair, and perhaps get a cup of coffee for himself. Yes, that sounded like a good plan...

 

But as he reached his hand out for the handle, the door suddenly burst open, revealing the furious face of the workshop manager. "There you are, Takeshi!" The boss yelled, flecks of his spit landing on his face. "How many times have I told you not to leave the workshop without telling me beforehand?!"

 

"I did, boss," he replied in a monotonous voice as he wiped the spit from his cheek. "I told Kenneth."

 

"My son is not me!! We had a very important customer in just now, and we need to get his car fixed ASAP! You understand?!"

 

"Yes, yes, I'm on it..." Disappointedly, Takeshi turned around to shuffle back into the garage. "And I was really looking forward to that coffee too..."

 

"I heard that!!"

 

Sighing, Takeshi settled down next to Kenneth, who was already back underneath the Bentley as he fiddled with a screw on the underside of the vehicle. "Sorry about that," the boy said. "You know the tempers that my father can get into sometimes. It didn't help that the latest customer was being quite demanding about the time schedule."

 

"Forget about it." He picked up a wrench, spinning it absentmindedly in his fingers. Kenneth's father had gone back into the office as the door slammed with a loud bang. Takeshi leaned back onto the ground and stared at the ceiling, his mind slowly drifting away into a daydream. 

 

"Hello, Kenneth! Takeshi!" came a voice from the entrance. The young man cracked open an eye to see a familiar female figure, dressed in a very pink cosplay dress that probably referenced some anime or another. He replied with an "Oh, it's you" at the same time as Kenneth greeted her with a warm "Hey Tiffany!", closing his eyes as he tried to go back to sleep.

 

His valiant attempt was thwarted once again by a karate chop to the head. "Stop snoozing, you lazy bum!" He opened his eyes once more to see Tiffany's face towering over him. "Sleeping too much will give you gray hairs!"

 

"Shut up. Gray hairs are a sign of maturity and manliness." He tried to close his eyes again, only to receive another karate chop.

 

"No! If you get gray hairs you'll grow bald! How can you bear to let your naturally wavy hair all drop out before you reach the prime age of 55?" Tiffany's karate chops were coming non-stop now. "No! I must stop you from destroying your beautiful head of hair! Get up! Get up!!!" Finally, Takeshi gave up and sat up, groaning loudly in protest.

 

"You're noisy! Go and get me a cup of coffee or something, you 2D girl!" But Tiffany simply ignored Takeshi's grumblings, turning to face Kenneth with a grin.

 

"Do you like my new dress? It's from Madoka!"

"Eh? Isn't that the show where everyone dies?"

"Well, not everyone..."

"No, I remember! It's the really depressing one! What kind of shows do you watch?!"

"But... the dresses are pretty..."

 

Takeshi sighed, leaning back down again. The screams and voices of the soldiers he had killed with his own hands echoed in his head, but he dismissed them with a mental wave of his hand. He was glad of the slow-paced, easy life here in this small town in a deserted section of USA. It helped him retain his sanity after each mission.

 

He closed his eyes and smiled.

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[Agent]'s extraction did not quite go as planned.

 

"Now diverting course to rendezvous with AS-01 [Agent]."

 

Togo growled as he headed toward Bay 8. Not only was [Agent] now late for his debriefing, but they'd have to make a further detour to retrieve his flight pack. As he passed through the maintenance hanger, Togo barked orders at the crew lazing around, and they quickly made themselves look busy. They weren't the most capable crew, but [Agent]'s pilot wasn't demanding enough to kick them into working harder. Even when Togo chewed the worst ones out for slacking, they simply yelled and tried to get away from him. From the day he'd been hired, Togo had been marking Bay 8 as his territory, demanding obedience from the workers, yet they remained stubbornly disrespectful. Only [Agent] treated him well. And that was why, despite all his whining, he was happy right now. [Agent] was coming home.

 

A loud clunk followed by a long screeching sound suddenly resonated throughout the hull of the Avalon. Togo tried to cover his ears, but that task was made harder by his lack of hands. He wasn't the most able-bodied member of staff, but he made do.

 

Static burst through the ship speaker system, followed by a voice. "Someone is hacking our communication system, we can't-"

 

A new voice was heard as the previous cut out, along with a repeating banging noise on the hull of the ship "STOP! STOP YOU RAN INTO ME! STOP DAMN IT!"

 

Togo's ears perked up - that was [Agent]'s voice.

 

Avalon cuts its engines, and began to surface. Bay 8's door opened, and a soaking wet ExoSuit fell in unceremoniously.

 

“Retrieval successful. AS-01 [Agent]  in Bay 8."

 

[Agent] was coated with seaweed, its joints were stuffed with fish, and it had a still-thrashing shark trying to munch on its leg like an unruly pet dog. Togo had never seen such a ridiculous sight.

 

--

 

After [Agent] had exited the suit and taken shelter inside his cardboard box, he and Togo walked back to his room. [Agent]'s box bobbed up and down as he crouch-walked along underneath it. "Did you miss me, boy?" he said to Togo. Togo barked something unintelligible back, and [Agent] laughed. "Okay, okay, I know I'm late for dinner. But my damned flight pack wasn't properly fueled. I had to swim a hell of a long way to rendezvous here. And then I almost get wiped out by Avalon. I couldn't help it, a whale knocked out part of my transmitter - they hit hard you know! It's a good thing Avalon's comm system is an easy hack."

 

"Anyway, I'll make your dinner right away, Togo." he said, sneaking an arm out of his box to pat him. Togo's tail wagged happily and his tongue stuck out, already salivating.

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Werner tapped his foot on the floor impatiently, looking at the members of Vengeance assembled at the briefing room. Most of them had assembled on time, and were similarly glancing side to side in anticipation, occasionally peeking at smartscreens they were trying to conceal under the table in a painfully obvious way or sipping at the cups of water on the table. To his side was the ever-reliable Doktor Braun, currently frowning as she looked at the person opposite him -- Rainn Winters, pilot of the AS-037 Blitz Ronin and generally an all-around creepy borderline psychopath. Okay, scratch borderline -- Werner honestly didn't know why people didn't sedate him every time they hauled Ronin back aboard the Avalon.

 

Beside him was Dr. Cassandra Snow, the Ronin's chief engineer. He'd managed to ask her out for dinner once, actually, which was far more than what he could say for his dear Doktor beside him. However, she'd spent the whole of the dinner date giving him an emotionless, unblinking stare as she wordlessly, mechanically transferred forkfuls of pasta into her mouth, so he couldn't with a clear conscience call that little rendezvous a resounding success. She wasn't exactly normal, but people put up with her because, frankly, she was a freaking world-class genius.

 

At the head of the table was Prophet 1, Captain of the Avalon and one of the masterminds behind the well-oiled PMC-slaughtering machine that was Vengeance. She also happened to be a pint-sized girl of no more than sixteen years of age with long brown hair reaching down to her waist and a perpetually-annoyed stare. She made a little noise of disapproval as Rainn reclined backwards and rested both of his metal feet on the table, taking a huge gulp from his cup of water. Beside her sat her Operations Director and right-hand man: Prophet 2 (how imaginative), a crusty, century-old relic of the Cold War, an eyepatch-wearing, bald mountain of a man kept alive by endless doses of genetic therapy treatments. They apparently had real names, but almost everyone exclusively referred to them by callsign alone.

 

Two people were still missing, and one of them was unlikely to ever show up. Where his chair would have been was a black oblong bolted to the floor, a display upon its front face proclaiming in red block letters: SERAPH 08. SOUND ONLY. The little icon that would have indicated his presence wasn't blinking. The lazy dog was probably asleep again, as usual. A loose cannon like Rainn, tolerated mainly because he was one of those few who could make the best of his ultra-advanced Angel Suit's capabilities.

 

And the last of the pilots that should have been here wasn't present either. The pilot of the top-secret AS-01 [AGENT] was a mystery wrapped in a riddle wrapped within an enigma usually wrapped within a thick quilt -- even after a whole year here, sometimes working alongside the man, he still hadn't seen his face. Just where was he-

 

Abruptly, he heard a rustling beside him, and looked down to see a cardboard box with a pair of feet sticking out of the bottom duck-walk into position beside him. "Sorry. Had to feed the Lieutenant." a voice from under the box mumbled.

 

"Alright, seems like we're all here!" Prophet 1 declared, rapping her hand on the table. "Except that lazy idiot Takeshi, who's probably sleeping off another anime marathon again."

 

"As expected." most of the room murmured in unison.

 

"The agenda for today is a debriefing on the three operations that occurred in the past 24 hours, two of them concurrently." She waved her hand, and footage captured from the four suits' integrated camera feeds began playing. "Excellent work, all of you. A very impressive show of force from all of you -- FutureTech is probably quivering in their boots as we speak. I'm still not sure why Werner here insists on clubbing FutureTech goons to death with his Angel Suit's limbs when he's got a perfectly functional payload of missiles, though." she frowned in mild annoyance.

 

"Them bitches don't need to know about my armor-piercing missile." Werner replied in a complete deadpan, resting a hand on his chin. "Um.. missiles, I mean."

 

"Saving them for a dramatic moment would be just your style, Von Stroheim," Prophet 2 rumbled, steeping his fingers. "It was a risk to go up against two squads of Flankers alone, but it looks like the Crimson Typhoon didn't disappoint after all."

 

"I left that life behind me, and never looked back, Prophet 2." Werner replied coldly. "... Not like I do much looking back nowadays." He tapped the visor covering the upper half of his face and grinned, eliciting a couple of nervous chuckles from the assembled personnel and raucous guffawing from Rainn, whose feet were still on the table. There was a muted clank as Clara kicked him in the shins. An appropriate response. Even I'm ashamed about that joke.

 

Suddenly, the little indicator icon flickered to life on the oblong marked Seraph 08. "Guys... Uh... did I miss something?" a woozy voice mumbled. It sounded like he'd just woken up.

 

"We were just talking about how devastatingly handsome you are," Werner replied.

 

"Be quiet, Werner. Now that Takeshi's here, we can actually get down to business." Prophet 1 said reproachfully. "We must plan our next move -- FutureTech's already moving their pawns across the table as we speak."

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50 kilometers above the outskirts of Lyon, France, 29 July 2051, 0346 GMT

He was seated in the back of a military transport aircraft designed by Vengeance, a variant of an old Ilyushin Il-112 modified and enhanced using modern technology. He sat all by himself, with the entirety of the cargo area as for him, as he scrolled through the mission information present on his HUD. The mission briefing he’d received yesterday along with the remaining pilots was still fresh in his memory, but with 14 minutes left until the start of the operation there wasn’t anything else for him to spend his time on anyway.

His partner for the mission, [Agent], was already on the ground, presumably also ready and waiting until the predetermined operation time. This was the first time Rainn would have to cooperate with someone to successfully accomplish the mission, but he had heard that [Agent] and Seraph had successfully completed an operation in the United States. At least that meant [Agent] knew how teamwork normally went… today would be the day for him to learn how teamwork with Rainn worked.

“You ready?†The voice of Elena Harris resonated in his ears. Apparently some higher-up wasn’t pleased with the way Rainn handled the previous op and had decided that Elena would operate as his Commanding Officer during missions. Rainn didn’t answer; he simply nodded knowing that she was patched into the Ronin’s video feed. “Remember, you’re just the distraction. Retrieving the data on the new ExoSuits is [Agent]’s job.†Another nod. “Fifteen minutes and then we move out. Not a second longer.â€

“What happens if I stay after fifteen minutes?â€

“Back-up will arrive."

“Are the new suits really that dangerous? Aren’t the Angel Suits to best?â€

“No.†The voice belonged to Cassi, who apparently was also seated in the Blitz Command Center. “Doubtful that they are capable of producing anything remotely close to the level of power the Angel Suits possess without the use of the G-Particle, which as far as we know is still unknown to them. Any suit produces through conventional methods or based on any of the commonly known fuel methods will be unable to match the versatility and power of the G-Particle fueled ExoSuits. Regardless-â€

“Cassi,†Elena interrupted Cassi’s tangent, “let me handle it okay?†Rainn didn’t hear Cassi’s response, but knowing her she probably just nodded while maintaining the same dead stare she always had. “Rainn, regardless of whether the new suit is a threat or not we need to know what they are up to. We need to know how close they are to reaching us. Anyway get ready, we’re starting soon. And remember; if I tell you to jump, you jump as high as you can.â€

“I’d get higher if I flew.â€

“You’d get higher if you lived to fly another day.â€

Rainn stood up and walked towards the door at the end of the aircraft. The door slowly dropped down, giving Rainn the opportunity to the jump down. Before he did as such he took one last chance to make sure that the HF Musashi, the Fangs and his auxiliary weaponry were already accounted for. “AS-037 Ronin commencing operation Blackout.â€

He jumped out and dove down like an eagle as big bright numbers counted down on his HUD. If his mission was to create a distraction, he may as well put up the best show of his life and what better opening could there be than for him fall down for 50 kilometers. “Good luck.†Cassi’s voice was as deadpan as ever. Rainn had trouble believing she actually cared about him succeeding. It was more than likely that she simply didn’t want the suit to be damaged.

Several hundred meters above the ground the red aureole appeared at the Ronin’s back and Rainn convulsed as he was violently jerked from his freefall. Suddenly stopping after achieving that degree of speed would’ve been enough to shatter several bones of any organic pilot, maybe even kill them. Luckily Rainn was a cyborg. The aureole disappeared and let Rainn continue his free fall from a much lower altitude.

Unaided by any kind of parachute or flying mechanism Rainn landed square in the middle of a military base at the outskirts of Lyon. The protection of his own enhancements, the Ronin and the fact that he didn’t achieve the same amount of acceleration in the hundred meter free fall meant that he safely landed on the ground with one knee on the ground, one arm resting on the other bent knee and the other fist leaning on the ground. He stared at the cracks that formed on the asphalt underneath him for a few seconds before quickly raising his head and meeting the eyes of the two soldiers in ExoSuits in front of him. “Always wanted to do that.â€

“You’re a fucking idiot.†The sound of Elena’s facepalm was loud enough for Rainn to hear through the voicecomm. The two soldiers in front of Rainn immediately opened fire, prompting him to roll sideways and draw the two plasma sabers before lunging at them. The rounds fired by the gauss rifles they carried seemed to move in slow-motion as Rainn easily managed to avoid them by simply ducking or zigzagging.

He closed in and slashed the first soldier with both blades in a diagonal motion, cutting him into three bloody pieces that swiftly fell into a puddle of their own blood on the ground. The second soldier relinquished his gauss rifle for his own plasma saber and ferociously swung at the Ronin, but going berserk wouldn’t be enough to overcome the major differences in their suits. A simple parry with the offhand saber was enough to defend him from the strike and plunging the second saber straight into the soldier’s face put an end to his attack.

Rainn retracted the saber to let his opponent fall to his knees before lifelessly landing on the ground with his face. He turned around to face the dozens of soldiers who gathered outside to take care of the intruder. Against these odds Rainn couldn’t help but tremble. Some of the soldiers made the mistake of assuming it meant he was afraid, but the murderous wide-eyed expression on his face was hidden behind the Ronin’s mask. A wide smile appeared on his face, wide enough to reveal nearly every single tooth in his mouth. A few of the opposing soldiers demanded Rainn’s surrender, but he was too absorbed in the fact that he had this many opponents to fight. This many opponents to mutilate. This many opponents to murder.

Christmas came early this year.

“Take your time, [Agent].†He tried to reach [Agent] through the comm, hoping his partner would get the message. Without any hesitation or heed for their warnings he dashed, ready to engage every single one of the French soldiers.

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"Code Red! I repeat, we have a Code Red on hand! All personnel, report to your stations immediately!"

 

The AS-08X Seraph Excalibur floated through the underground chambers like a wraith as the announcement rang overhead, interspersed with the sounds of heavy footsteps as engineers and soldiers hurried to and fro. Prophet-1 had been right about this place being a top-secret developmental facility; from the level of security seen so far, the Russians were really concerned about keeping whatever it is they kept down here confidential. As Takeshi rounded the corner, another three soldiers armed with Gallant suits spotted him, raising their gauss rifles as a rain of bullets cascaded down the narrow corridor.

 

The confined space made it difficult for Takeshi to maneuver in, but there was still enough space to avoid the bullets. As the streams of light behind him flared into action, he weaved left and right with all the grace of a ballroom dancer, not even sustaining a single scrape as he rapidly closed the distance between himself and the soldiers. They panicked, reaching for their combat knives, but a couple of swift strokes separated their unfortunate bodies into two.

 

"Hey," Takeshi muttered into his vocal transmitter, which was connected to both Werner, his partner for this mission, and Prophet 2, who was running intelligence for the both of them. "How much further before I reach point Delta? Man, this job is boring."

 

"It's not far from here," Prophet 2 replied with a tinge of annoyance in his voice. "Just two more lefts and then go all the way down the corridor."

 

A bunch of scientists caught sight of him, and screamed for their lives. Takeshi gave them an aloof look, which didn't do much considering they couldn't see his face through the Angel Suit, and floated away. Killing civilians wasn't something he'd do, even as a member of Vengeance. A couple more Gallant suits were dispatched quickly, and soon, he arrived at the place where he'd been sent - Point Delta.

 

Except, there was an enormous steel door in his way.

 

"Use the explosives," Prophet 2 muttered in his ear like some sort of tutorial guide. Takeshi tutted him away as a small compartment on the side of his leg popped open, revealing a brown packet inside. It wasn't anything fancy, just a shaped charge meant for taking out obstacles. He planted it in the middle of the door, whistled a cheerful tune, and noticed something flashing on his HUD-

 

The doors slid open with alarming speed, and a blade came whizzing out at his head. Thankfully, the Seraph's tachyon analyzer had warned him of the incoming attack, allowing Takeshi to duck out of the way as he floated to a safe distance, both plasma blades extended. His foe resembled a standard Flanker-type ExoSuit, but the design was notably different. It was sleeker, more well-equipped, and had a huge jump jet on its back. "Vengeance," the pilot of the unknown suit spoke out loud. "We had not predicted that you'd come so soon."

 

The man's Russian accent was very obvious. "That's the suit we're looking for," came Prophet 2's voice once more. "ESX-37 Terminator. Take him out."

 

"Nice suit you have there," Takeshi replied to the other pilot. "What's the new feature? Sparkles?"

 

His sentence was cut short abruptly when the Terminator's jets burst into flame, sending him hurtling at alarming speeds towards Takeshi. He barely avoided the other suit as it flew past him in a flash, unable to control its own immense speed as it slammed into the far wall. That kind of speed would have ruptured the internal organs of any ordinary pilot, Takeshi noted, turning around to face his opponent once more. I should stop fooling around for a few minutes.

 

"The suit is still in development," came the Russian voice again, "but it is more than enough to take you terrorist dogs out."

 

"I prefer cats, actually. They're easier to take care of."

 

"What?"

 

Takeshi took the moment of confusion to strike, delivering a double slash that scraped the Terminator's armor as he used another burst of speed to move around him. Blades extended from all over its body without warning, and it threw a chainsaw fist that Takeshi avoided by flying backwards. Hey, hey, what's going on here? Isn't that design stolen from one of the prototype suits designed by Vengeance? Something changed in his demeanor for a single second.

 

SlashSlash. Slash.

 

The Seraph moved at speeds faster than humanly possible, as trails of light followed the movements of its blades. Both arms of the Terminator and the front portion of his helmet landed on the ground with a loud thunk, revealing the surprised face of the Russian pilot within. "Where are the blueprints of this suit being kept?" Takeshi demanded to know.

 

The pilot burst out into laughter. "Foolish terrorist dogs! Do you think I will reveal something like that? What can you threaten to do to me? Kill me?"

 

"Nah. I don't like threats." Slash. The pilot's head fell to the ground as well. Leaning against the wall, Takeshi raised a hand to his ear. "Hecatonchires, how's your side going?"

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This mission hadn't been going exactly as planned.

 

It had gone swimmingly enough to start off with. Hecatonchires had been tasked with running interference for Seraph while it hunted down the Russian prototypes stored within this facility -- simple enough. The moment Hecatonchires had dropped out of the night sky onto the moonlit tundra of the base, every sensor array within several kilometers started returning nothing but white noise; the perfect opportunity for Seraph to slip past the sentries and into the base. In addition, the invisible haze of G-Particles his drones had dispersed across the landscape scrambled the communications systems of the base -- right now, the base was cut off from the outside world, and hundreds of miles from the nearest city. He'd expended a couple of his micro-missiles to take out a passing patrol that might have noticed the Seraph as it infiltrated from above, but they should have been practically invisible, unnoticed until Seraph was well within the base and destroying the priceless prototypes within.

 

However, someone had tripped the alarm, and the base suddenly erupted into a hornets' nest of frenzied action. While their suits, despite being top-of-the-line models that were a match to the best the Japanese, the Americans or the Germans could offer, were ineffectual against a true Angel Suit, it was rather impressive how many forces they had dedicated to guarding the top-secret facility. However, numbers meant nothing to the Hecatonchires' power -- a single salvo from his micro-missiles had obliterated every one of the ExoSuits bold enough to leave cover and face him.

 

What he hadn't expected, however, was for the prototype they'd been looking for to attack him.

 

Suddenly, the wall of the building he'd been standing beside exploded open, the six foot thick concrete falling apart in cleanly sliced chunks. Then, a gunmetal-grey ExoSuit resembling a Flanker with a large backpack attachment barreled into him at an inhuman speed, the high-frequency blades upon its limbs slicing inch-deep gouges into the Hecatonchires' armor. For the first time since he'd last suited up in a Flanker, he heard a familiar noise in his ears -- the frantic beeping of a damage alert. One of the new suit's blades had sliced into the arm of the Hecatonchires, cutting into the artificial muscle fibers that gave the suit its massive strength. He had managed to push his attacker off with a blow from his good arm, but the other pilot was relentless, and immediately peppered the Juggernaut with a hail of high-velocity slugs from the submachine guns recessed into its arms. 

 

He'd initially tried using his razor-wire cannons, firing several blasts at the other suit's torso. However, the other pilot managed to dodge them -- and Werner swore as he came to realize what happened. The razor-wire slugs the Hecatonchires used were subsonic, and somehow, the other pilot had heard them coming, and somehow gotten out of the way before the slugs even hit. This suit was fast -- perhaps even an equal to a machine like the Blitz! No human pilot could have handled that acceleration without his organs turning to mush; the Russians must have had a cybernetics program far in advance of what was once believed, to be capable of full-body modifications like that. Werner was at a disadvantage here -- the Juggernaut was formidable, but it wasn't anywhere as fast as this new machine -- and not to mention that it hadn't been kitted out for close-quarters combat to begin with. In addition, he was basically a blind cripple who needed his suit's machinery to see, while whoever was piloting this thing must have been some freakish total-conversion cyborg like Rainn was. There wasn't much of a choice -- he'd have to bring his full arsenal to bear.

 

The chest armor of the Hecatonchires slid open, revealing its primary armament -- its micro-missiles, little marvels of technology small enough to hold in one hand that could seek out and destroy any known ExoSuit with a single shot. Just to be sure, he fired eight of them at the enemy -- and to his great displeasure and surprise, the other pilot had a trick up his sleeve. The ExoSuit's armor exploded, shredding the incoming missiles and blasting Werner with a hail of white-hot shrapnel. Just as the suit's camera's recovered, the enemy ExoSuit was already airborne and descending upon him, a machete-like blade raised to slice through Werner's head. Only a quick volley from his arm cannons managed to deter the other pilot, forcing him to change course or get sliced apart.

 

"Hecatonchires, how's your side going? Takeshi's voice crackled through the comms.

 

"Not good at all," he grunted as he threw a punch, which the enemy easily dodged. Then, his opponent's armor exploded again, and even through the foot-thick armor plating of the Hecatonchires, Werner still felt shaken by the blast. Thankfully, the suit only registered superficial damage, but it seemed like it would need a new coat of paint after this job was done.

 

"Let's see how you handle this, then," Werner growled, and two coronas of blue light appeared behind his suit as it shot skywards. The Juggernaut series had never been built for aerial combat -- while it was certainly capable of long flights, it didn't exactly turn on a dime, either; besides, lifting the machine's mass took up a great deal of internal power that was better used on powering the weapons. However, it was probably a moot point, since no known ExoSuit could fly like an Angel Suit could, merely make brief hops -- if he stayed airborne, the other pilot would have little but his submachine guns to bring to bear against him, and Werner could bombard him with missiles until his reactive armor finally failed.

 

Werner's displeasure was very palpable the moment the other ExoSuit fired its own thrusters, lifting off the ground to chase the Hecatonchires. Our enemies have flight-capable suits now? This isn't good! He swooped and weaved through the sky, his cannons filling the sky with a hailstorm of monofilament wire as he attempted to gun down the suit pursuing him, but the other pilot was absurdly fast, and most of his shots ended up going wide. He was out of his element here -- he was no fighter pilot, and he had zero experience with air-to-air combat. While he so far had managed to keep the other suit off his back, with just the slightest mistake, he'd end up having a high-frequency blade buried in his brain.

 

For a while, they were stalemated, both pilots unable to gain a decisive advantage over the other. Then, Werner noticed something -- the jet of superheated plasma the other suit was ejecting to keep airborne was starting to sputter, and the other machine seemed to be slowing down slightly. He grinned -- if the other suit couldn't keep up the momentum, he'd gain the advantage. Slow and steady, as they always said.

 

Finally, after nearly thirty seconds of fruitless dogfighting, one of his razor-wire slugs nicked the backpack the other suit was using to stay airborne. Suddenly, a huge plume of white-hot plasma burst from the tiny breach the cutting wire had opened, and the entire suit was consumed by a fireball that lit up the sky for miles around. A few moments later, Takeshi radioed in -- he'd retrieved the dismembered prototype suit he'd defeated, and retrieved the schematics, destroying as much of the manufacturing equipment as he could before he left. Mission complete.

 

"Well done, both of you. You'll have to return to the Avalon today, Takeshi. We need to examine that suit you've recovered." Prophet 2's voice crackled over the radio. "There is but one problem though -- according to the data Takeshi just retrieved... there's already three completed prototypes. You only encountered two of them, didn't you?"

 

Oh dear. Something so obviously foreshadowed could only give us grief in time to come.

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"Hey Alef, what's doing?"

 

"Not much man. Hey, did you see the latest episode of Damgun 99?"

 

"Oh yeah! It was pretty intense wasn't it? I didn't expect Onlock would die, I thought all the characters would have plot amour at least until the finale."

 

"Much shock, many feels."

 

"True that..."

 

"Anyway, talk to you later, gotta get back to work before the commander has me on janitorial duty again."

 

[Agent] continued down the hallway, having managed to successfully diffuse the situation. He was using that Alef's ID code, hence he was appearing as such on the HUDs of those he passed by. Just his luck to run into someone who knew Alef. At any rate, [Agent] was prepared for just such eventualities. He'd been sure to extract a ton of info from Alef's suit before stashing it in the storage compartment. It seems Alef and his buddy chatted about anime a lot, judging from their comm logs. Although, [Agent] hadn't needed to draw from the history too much for that conversation. Onlock was [Agent]'s favourite character after all.

 

He made his way to the research lab and waited outside, checking the time.

 

3...

 

2...

 

1...

 

There was a loud bang, and the sounds of weapons fire were heard above ground. The alert came over the loudspeakers "All personnel, this is not a- HURAHGHAAGAARRRRRRRRGHH!!!-bzzzzzt"

 

Take your time, [Agent]. came the message from Rainn. [Agent] was maintaining radio silence, and could not reply at this time. Either way, he found it a pretty pointless assurance. He'd take as long as he needed, Rainn would have to keep going as long as necessary.

 

[Agent] burst into the lab, weapon drawn. "Everybody out! Now! We're under attack!"

 

The various scientists and researchers wasted no time evacuating, [Agent] waving them all past as they exited. Once the room was emptied, he'd slipped in and activated the door lock. Hacking the computers was a routine enough task. The scientists hadn't even bothered to log out of their terminals before fleeing, so the "hacking" amounted to planting his suit's butt in a chair and connecting his finger to the terminals. He was free to download all the information he needed.

 

 

"Looks like they're closer to us than expected..." he frowned, skimming the data on the new Exosuits as it downloaded.

 

"What's going on?" a voice came from behind suddenly.

 

[Agent] quickly twisted his finger and switched the monitor's display to something less incriminating. Sort of. He only had a split second to pick a random file to open, unfortunately.

 

"Oh-ho-ho, La Red Girl, nice!" the straggler scientist said, leaning over [Agent]'s shoulder a bit too eagerly. There was an awkward silence punctuated only by the sounds of moaning and squelching tentacles.

 

Thud.

 

The scientist dropped to the ground unconscious, struck on the head. [Agent] shook his head and wondered how he'd explain that if they reviewed the visuals from his suit in the debriefing. They tended to fast-forward through visual data to keep it short, so they'd have no audio, and [Agent] did not look at the scientist. So it was going to look like he checked out that hentai of his own volition.

 

[Agent] could only sigh as he stood up, the download completed. He quickly made his way out of the base, a task made easy by the fact most of the guards were headed to the surface to engage the enemy.

 

"Hold it right there." a female voice halted [Agent]. She was right behind him. He turned around to see an unusual Exosuit. It was dark red and distinctly feminine in shape. "So you're the man of mystery hmm?" she cooed.

 

"Ha. Ha. Did Paul put you up to this?" [Agent] replied, hoping indeed this was some sort of trick from Alef's friend.

 

The female suit swayed her hips as she stepped closer, putting a clawed hand to the face of [Agent]'s suit. "You can drop the charade. I know what you're here for."

 

[Agent] was beginning to wonder at the likelihood this was some sort of hitherto unheard of stripper Exosuit that was to pay Alef a visit, when he noticed her other hand was reaching for something behind her while he was distracted. He leaped back just in time to avoid her swinging a metallic whip out from behind her, trying to snare him. Someone was on to his real identity. He backed up and dodged some more as she kept cracking her whip at him, until finally he shot out his hidden blades and lunged forward, trying to cut the whip at its base. However, his HF blades weren't able to cut through it, and instead it wrapped around them and coiled its way up his arm, turning into more of a snake than a whip. The mysterious female pulled him closer, and [Agent] was forced to make a hard decision.

 

He ejected his suit's arms. They rocketed into the female suit, propelling her backward down the hallway a great distance, before finally crashing her into the far wall. While she was down, [Agent] legged it - not that there was anything else to do, with his legs his only remaining limbs. As he cleared the hallway, the detached arms exploded behind him - there'd be no trace of them left to analyze.

 

Luckily, by the time [Agent] was nearing the exit of the underground base, there were enough other damaged Exosuits that his missing arms didn't stand out. He ran towards Rainn desperately, loose wires from where his arms had been flapping in the wind. "I'VE GOT THE STUFF, COVER'S BLOWN, LET'S GO GO!" he shouted.

 

With the female suit aware of his enemy status, and probably having warned others by now of the ID code he'd stolen (and perhaps of his missing arms if she survived the blast), he could no longer hope to sneak out of the base after things died down. He had to go out alongside Rainn, all guns blazing. Though, without his arms, he had no weapons. All he could do was focus on jamming the enemies and hacking their visual systems where possible to relay them false data. He unleashed his full arsenal of confusion techniques. Swapping enemy ID numbers, scrambling others, broadcasting fake and conflicting orders. The enemies would be in disarray, other than those that simply focused on fighting the enemy in front of them.

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"You'd think that after years of doing nothing but surrendering you guys would know when to give up?" With each arc left behind by the light of his plasma sabers Rainn killed another one of the soldiers, but for each one that he felled a replacement appeared out of thin air. "Is there no end to your supply of suicidal frenchies?" Despite his taunt and constant urging for them to surrender peacefully the maniacal cackling with each kill gave away that Rainn had no intention of stopping anytime soon.

How fitting that [Agent] appeared to ruin his fun. Running while swinging stumps where his arms were supposed to be his partner signalled that it was time for them to put and end to this mission, much to Rainn's chagrin; his killcount wasn't in the triple digits yet. "[Agent], we're gonna have a nice and long talk about this when we get back to Avalon about the meaning of taking your-"

"Time to go, Rainn," Elena's voice resounding, through Rainn's comm, interrupted him, "cover Agent while he retrieves his backpack and rendezvous on board of the transporter." Too annoyed to communicate verbally Rainn waved Agent away to signal that it was time for extraction. All too glad that he was given one last chance to inflict carnage to his heart's content Rainn turned and faced the force of soldiers that remained undiminished despite his best efforts to cut them down.

He was, frankly, happy that they had so many soldiers that they did not mind sending to the slaughter. His typical insane laughter echoed through the base as he made one last dash at the forces sent to stop his onslaught. Several slashes, dashes, dodges, stabs and taunts later Elena contacted him again. “[Agent] is on board, it’s time to fall back.†Rainn ignored it and continued to carve through the wall of soldiers firing on him. “Rainn, I’m not going to repeat myself. Move now or we’ll have to take over.†Again no response from Rainn. “Fine. Cassi, do it.â€

Rainn’s body felt heavy, he could no longer move and suddenly the aureole appeared behind him and the suit began to levitate. “No! No! Fuck! No! Fuck nooooooooo!†As much as he struggled and willed himself to move his body remained completely paralyzed. “Cassi…†Rainn was suddenly calm. “I’m giving you two choices. The first choice is obvious; you let go of me and we forget this ever happened.†Cassi remained silent. “The second one is less pleasant. It involves you sleeping with your eyes open out of fear that I’ll murder you in your sleep.â€

“You know your threats are pretty empty when she can just shut you down before going to sleep, right?â€

“Well, shit.â€

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Several hours later, aboard the Avalon

 

"You messed the Hecatonchires up real good this time," Clara muttered as she inspected the damage to the Juggernaut's armor. The Juggernaut had taken quite a beating in its previous mission -- the enemy ExoSuit had somehow come into possession of a weapon that could slice through armor plating even the Russians' heavy gauss rifles couldn't put a dent in, and had managed to leave several deep gashes that severed several of the Juggernaut's artificial muscle fibers. It was a disturbing revelation indeed, knowing that the enemy now possessed a weapon that could damage the mighty Hecatonchires itself. That mighty machine had been effectively invincible in previous missions, and Werner was starting to suspect he was using it as a crutch, taking risks he'd never have attempted in anything more fragile. Now that he was no longer invulnerable, he couldn't treat this as a mere game any more.

 

"Can't be helped. The Russians had some seriously fancy shit up their sleeves the whole time," Werner mused. "The weapons of even the best ExoSuits we've heard of can't penetrate all the way through the armor of the Juggernaut -- they'd be pinpricks unless the pilot got really lucky and hit some vulnerability we've never found." he ran his hand over one of the deep gouges torn into the Juggernaut's shin by the enemy unit's blades. The cuts were unnaturally smooth and clean, more like surgical incisions than battle damage to Werner's eye. "The Russians weren't supposed to have perfected full-conversion cyborg tech yet,,, and neither are they supposed to have a weapon that cut as well as an Angel Suit's own-"

 

Werner paused, and what little of his exposed features turned pale as a silence descended upon the hangar,disturbed only by the steady hum of the Avalon's systems somewhere within the hull. "A weapon that cuts as well as an Angel Suit's? I knew those cuts looked familiar -- when I'd suited up in Hydra for that operation in Mombasa, I remember seeing similar gouges when I'd used the HF Fangs."

 

"So you're saying the Russians have perfected high-frequency blades. Last I knew, only we knew how to make those things." Clara said, her pretty features marred by an annoyed frown. "Not to mention, [Agent]'s debriefing report made mention of, to quote, 'some kind of prehensile whip thing'. That sounds disturbingly like the work Dr. Tennant has been carrying out on electro-active nanotube cables..." She pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose, and jabbed the screen of the diagnostics terminal several times. "Basically, unless you're accepting the long-shot chance of both the French and the Russians figuring out how to build two of our weapons on their own... there's only one logical conclusion."

 

"Someone among us is leaking our secrets to them." Werner finished grimly.

 

"I'll have to get to the bottom of this. We can't allow this espionage to continue. But you'd better focus on your piloting; no sense worrying about conspiracies when some asshole strikes your head from your shoulders, right?" Clara said, before turning back to her diagnostic terminal and making a few keystrokes, causing a robotic arm to extend from a compartment on one corner of the docking bay and probe the surface of the Hecatonchires.

 

"Understood, ma'am," Werner replied with a jaunty salute. He couldn't help but be worried, though. The traitor might only have leaked schematics to their enemies, but that might only have been the beginning -- what if someday, they decided to take a more active role? The Argus System could see all, but it would be little help against a knife in the back...

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"Retrieval successful. AS-08 Seraph Excalibur has landed in Bay 8."

 

Takeshi strode out of the Angel Suit hanger, casually removing his helmet with a soft release of pressurized air, holding it by his side with one hand as a female engineer hurried up to his side. "Welcome back, Mr. Fukagawa," the woman he recognized as Sarah McLauren spoke. She was young enough to look like she had been recruited straight out of college, but Takeshi knew that her natural talent with machines was without equal. Apart from being in-charge of the maintenance and the turnaround of the AS-08 Seraph, which by virtue of its design, was one of the most complex Angel Suits currently in use, she was also working on making certain modifications on it that would increase its mission capability many times over. Takeshi had problems thinking of what could possess more firepower than the already-impressive Jaeger variant.

 

But he knew that there was a spy on board the Avalon. Someone had leaked Angel Suit designs to the Russians, and that meant that he couldn't trust anyone at the moment. "Hard at work, I see," Takeshi replied, letting a casual grin spread across his face as he returned her salute. "Well, I leave the suit in your capable hands again."

 

"Not that you ever give me a lot to work with!" Sarah laughed, as the two of them continued to walk across the engineering bay. "I've never had to repair any battle damage on the Seraph before. A testament to your legendary pilot skills, eh, Mr. Supersoldier?"

 

"I'm just an ordinary car mechanic, Sarah," he replied, stepping out of the doorway as he turned to face her. "And if the opponents we're facing are going to be as strong as the ones I fought earlier, you might have to start working on battle damage very soon." His fingers found the controls on the wall, and with a flick, the metal doors closed between the two of them. Takeshi's smile dropped immediately as he turned and strode quickly towards the mission briefing room, putting the matter of the spy to the back of his mind. For now, Prophet-1 had called for the assembly of all the pilots in the main briefing room. It seems that a new pilot had been recruited to use one of the Angel Suits currently gathering dust in the Avalon hangers.

 

Takeshi mentally recounted the biographies of the types of pilots that had been hired by the enigmatic Prophet-1 in the past. There's Werner, a blind and semi-paralyzed dude who should be spending his days lying on a hospital bed. There's Rainn, who is basically Robocop. There's [Agent]... who the hell is he anyway? And then there's me, a good-for-nothing car mechanic who defaults on his rent every two out of three months. If the current recruitment trend keeps up, I wouldn't be surprised if our next elite pilot candidate turned out to be an old lady with amnesia.

 

The sleek metal doors slid open as Takeshi swiped his keycard on the door access panel, and was surprised to see that he was the first to arrive. This organization is really going to the dumps if I'm the earliest out of all of them, he thought, taking a seat as he leaned back and propped his legs up on the enormous table and closed his eyes to take a short nap. Somebody would wake him up when the meeting actually started, he rationalized, just before he slipped into dreamland and began snoring loudly.

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“Hyper Man!†announced a tall figure clad in a rather gaudy purple suit of armor, “Your time has come! I, King Torture, shall use the ultimate weapon, the Superstone, to destroy the universe!†He let out a bellowing laughter as he motioned to a spandex wearing figure below.

 

The figure, or “Hyper Man†as King Torture referred to him to, merely chuckled. “That’s where you’re wrong, King Torture!†he answered, striking a pose in the process. “The Superstone isn’t the ultimate weapon! In fact, I possess a weapon far more powerful than the Superstone right now!â€

 

“You lie!†roared King Torture as he pointed the Superstone at him. “I shall destroy you with the Superstone’s power, until you are dead!†A beam crackled from the Superstone as flew straight towards Hyper Man, who continued to flex. At the very last moment, he glared straight at the beam, red eye lasers shooting out from his eyes as it impacted with the beam. As his eye beams overpowered the beam, it pushed it backwards, before impacting with the Superstone, shattering it as King Torture was sent flying backwards, slamming into a wall rather unceremoniously as Hyper Man triumphantly strolled towards him.

 

“H-How?†stammered King Torture as Hyper Man stood in front of him, “How did you overpower the Superstone? Did you have the Megastone? Or perhaps even the Hyperstone? I must know!†Hyper Man merely sighed as he picked King Torture, before slapping a pair of handcuffs onto him. “You never learn do you? What I had was the power of friendship!â€

 

“Friendship? No! How could I not have figured it out!†King Torture sobbed as police officers appeared out of nowhere to escort him off. Brushing himself off, Hyper Man gave another one of his trademark smile, complete with a sparkle. “Remember kids, you too can use the most powerful power in the world! Friendshi-â€

 

*Click*

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Anya yawned as she turned the television off, falling face first into her bed. In the 1 week she was transferred on board the Avalon, she was restricted to her cabin, which she admitted, was pretty well done up for her. There was a rather comfortable queen sized bed, flowery pink upholstery and curtains, and all the stuffed toys a girl could ever want. Was this because they had heard she was only 16 years old? Regardless, she couldn’t care less as she grabbed a random stuffed unicorn nearby and tossed it into the air, catching it idly.

 

Without warning, her cabin door creaked open. Immediately, she tossed her stuffed toy straight at the figure entering the room, the toy impacting straight with the figure’s face, before she herself leapt from the bed, tackling the figure to the ground.

 

“Heh, think you could get the drop on me?†She yelled at the figure, “You couldn’t even-“

 

“Miss Justerire!†said the figure, its voice muffled by the stuffed toy, “It’s me, Miss Jacklyn!â€

 

Anya blinked for a second, before slowly shuffling off Miss Jacklyn. “Oops,†she muttered, smiling nervously, “I thought you were a FutureTech goon.†Miss Jacklyn merely sighed as she got up, readjusting her glasses. Why oh why did she accept being Anya’s caretaker? If only she had known what she had gotten herself into. Right now, she could be soaking in a hot tub in the showers, or maybe listening to one of Madonna the Second’s greatest hits, or even-

 

“Miss Jacklyn? You there?†Anya waved her hand in front of the lady’s face, snapping her out of her trance.

 

“Ah, right. New orders just came in, Miss Justerire. The higher ups have decided to post you to a combat unit aboard the Avalon. I assure you, I was horrified when I-“

 

“Wait a second,†muttered Anya, cutting in, “Did you just say combat unit?â€

 

“Well, yes, I did. Why do yo-“

 

“Woohoo!†Anya let out a cheer as she jumped into the air, forgetting the strength of her cybernetic legs as she sailed over Miss Jacklyn’s head. “Finally, some action! I thought I would be stuck in this room forever!â€

 

“I wish you were.â€

 

“Excuse me?â€

 

“Nothing, nothing,†sighed Jacklyn again as she motioned to Anya to follow her. As she skipped merrily behind Miss Jacklyn, she took note of her surroundings. Despite it being a terrorist organization, she had to admit Vengeance had a generous budget. As she viewed from the helicopter window when she first arrived here, the Avalon was gigantic and probably coasted a few billion dollars. They must have had really good technology to keep this a secret for so long, she thought to herself as Miss Jacklyn opened a door, leading her to what seemed to be a mess hall cum meeting room, as she inferred from a large table in middle, surrounded by chairs. Most noticeably though, was a guy sleeping at a chair, snoring away noisily.

 

“Looks like we’re early,†said Miss Jacklyn, petting her on the head, which caused Anya to flinch. She hated being petted on the head. “Well, I’ll be going now, Miss Justerire. Just wait here for the others to arrive.†Before Anya could even say a word, Miss Jacklyn had already left the room, the door slamming behind her. She swore she could hear cheering.

 

Staring curiously at the guy sleeping at the table, she gave him a good look. He seemed to be Japanese, judging by his characteristic. Suddenly, an idea popped into her head, as she gave a silent giggle. Grabbing a plastic bag from a nearby bin, she blew into it, inflating it until it was the size of her head. Tying it up and positioning it next to his head, she squeezed it tight, popping the bag loudly and yelling into his ears.

 

“RED ALERT, RED ALERT, THE PUDDINGS HAVE INVADED THE SALAD BAR!â€

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Thunderclouds had gathered over the small, unassuming hill that had been slated to be the site of his final stand. All around him, he could see the hordes of darkness; skeletons, ghouls, goblins and the occasional ogre, their numbers far greater than sand on a beach. Dark forms shifted to and fro as the soldiers of the Evil One amassed for war, their sinister voices reaching even Takeshi's ears from such a great distance. He gazed upon his comrades in comparison; they were a pale-skinned, scrawny bunch, but each and every one of them were proven veterans of the war. It had been a miracle that any of them had survived as long as they did. Their facial features were all blurry and unrecognizable, but Takeshi didn't mind that. A great warrior did not need a face. All he needed was his sword and his brother at his back.

 

"Today is most probably the last day we draw breath to do battle against the Evil One," Takeshi shouted, riding atop his winged unicorn as he brandished a runic sword and gestured expressively. "Today is the last day we will be able to stand by each other. But do not fret, comrades! For today will be a day carved into history! Today, we deal a blow to the Evil One's forces so hard it will take him a hundred years to recoup what he has lost. Today... we save the world!!"

 

Cheers erupted from his fellow warriors all around him, and not a moment too soon. With the great thundering of a goblin war drum, the forces of Evil began their final ascent of Mount Avalon, charging with mad fervor as they approached the final bastion of the Light. Takeshi's mount reared up with a neigh, slamming its hooves down onto the face of an unfortunate goblin - and then the fight was upon them.

 

Wars are never well-coordinated. You may have the best plans, being carried out by the best soldiers, but when all hell broke loose, every plan would fall apart and soon you'll find that staying alive will be your greatest challenge throughout the entire skirmish. Takeshi swung his blade left and right, barely having time to watch his foe fall to his blade before he had to turn to parry an attack from another side. He could no longer see where his comrades were, or whether they were still alive. At some point, his unicorn had fallen, and he landed on the muddy ground with a roll, quickly recovering before a skeleton could plunge its bony blade into his skull. Takeshi yelled, but the sound of his voice was drowned out by the roars of the monsters around him. Dancing like a demon, he continued to dart from foe to foe, slaying them with each motion of his blade as a fiery passion began to burn in his eyes.

 

He was the Black Angel of Death. He had been created for war.

 

It had started to rain. The battle had gone on for hours now; or had it been days? Takeshi felt his sword being knocked out of his grip, but he reacted with trained reflexes; grabbing the wrist of a snake-creature, he elbowed it in the chest and wrested the scimitar from its grip, using it to slice open the kneecaps of an ogre who had approached behind him. Two rat-men scuttled about below his waist, trying to slash open his boots, but Takeshi brought a foot down hard onto one of their heads, stepping on him as leverage as he jumped into the air, beheading a couple of mummies in the process as he landed in an open spot.

 

"RED ALERT, RED ALERT," came the voice in his transmitter. He brought a hand up to his ear, trying to focus the voice more clearly. A loud explosion could be heard over his head as one of the empire's battleships were blown out of the sky by the rebellion forces. "THE PUDDINGS HAVE INVADED THE SALAD BAR!"

 

No! Takeshi spun around, but it was too late. The Puddings, a nefarious space-dwelling race of fascists, had already breached the line that his comrades had been defending. He saw them climb over the warriors' bloodied corpses, grinning maliciously in all their gelatin-filled hatred as they reached under The Salad Bar, pressing a hidden button that had been located underneath. The ground opened up below Takeshi, and before he could catch a grip, he fell into the inky blackness below.

 

He was falling...

 

Falling...

 

Crash.

 

"Great Gelatinous Geronimo!!" Takeshi yelled, sitting up abruptly. Unfortunately for him, his sudden motion only served to slam his forehead into the edge of the meeting table, which sent him into a bout of explicit swear words as he rolled around on the ground and clutched at his now bruised skull. "Dammit...! Who in the world...?" He rolled over to his side, cracking an eye open as he spotted the form of a teenaged cyborg girl standing with a mischievous look beside the chair that he had been sleeping in.

 

Still lying on the floor, he narrowed his one open eye at the girl. "Who the hell are you?"

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After Rainn threatened to kill Cassi they decided that it might be best to take away control of his body to prevent him from actually causing harm to anyone during a tantrum. They knew very well that after giving him some time to cool off he would forget all about it. Impulsive people like him tended to get bored with old grudges really quickly.

They seated him in a wheelchair and left Cassi in charge of pushing him wherever he needed to be. Rainn wondered for a second why the chief engineer of the Blitz team would waste her time pushing around a paralyzed cyborg and could only come to the conclusion that all of this was orchestrated simply to piss him off. He eagerly looked forward to killing whoever made this woman his caretaker.

“This really isn’t necessary. I promise I won’t kill you or anyone else aboard this ship.â€Rainn’s pleas fell on deaf ears as Cassi silently pushed the wheelchair the paralyzed Rainn was seated in. “Come on Cassi, baby, you know I was just kidding. Just some fun among friends. You know how friends tell each other they are going to fuck each other up. Like that.†Silence.

Ever since returning from the mission Rainn had been slowly moving through the five stages of grief. At first he tried to deny the reality that he had lost all operational control over his own body, he was stuck in an empty shell. His tirade that followed shortly afterwards was equally ineffectual, especially considering that a tantrum doesn’t have as much impact when you can’t punch and throw stuff around. Rainn made sure to take note of everyone who laughed at the paralyzed cyborg sitting in a wheelchair while screaming his lungs out.

Sadly bargaining had proven to be just as pointless. Rainn’s socially inept supervisor was either heartless enough to not care at all about his plight or smart enough to realize that he would lie through his teeth if that meant getting back control over his body.

Cassi carted Rainn into the mission briefing room where they saw Takeshi dicking around with a little girl they had never met before. Rainn turned to face Cassi, but her dead stare perfectly concealed her obvious reluctance to remain in the room. She nodded and left, leaving the paralyzed Rainn right in front of the door in his wheelchair accompanied by Takeshi and some unknown girl. Takeshi’s question revealed that he was equally in the dark as to who this girl was.

“I believe the term you Japs use would be a ‘loli.’ I thought Prophet-1 was enough to fulfill this operation’s Loli-quota.â€

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Werner's footsteps, the clack of steel against steel, echoed loudly as he walked along the corridors of the Avalon, alongside the Operations Director, the man named Prophet 2.

 

Prophet 2 was a hulking mountain of a man, standing at six feet six and almost all of his two hundred and twenty pounds being corded muscle. It was an open secret he'd had genetic treatments done; while there were normal men with his build, they were young men in their prime -- certainly a far cry from a man who'd personally stormed the beaches of Normandy. He was bald and dark-skinned, bringing to mind a certain famous actor from those half-century-old non-interactive videos he used to enjoy back when he still had the use of his own two eyes. Sure, the Argus System might have been able to compensate, beaming raw data into an interface module in his brain that converted the input into something that approximated sight; it was both more, for no unaugmented human could fathom the sheer breadth of data the Argus System's array of sensors could pick up across the electromagnetic spectrum. At the same time, it was less; Werner always felt the world as seen through electronic eyes seemed more washed-out, less real; more an artifice created for his convenience, a fix for something that was broken and could never truly be returned.

 

Still, these eyes of his kept him useful in combat; with them in place, he could fight; he could kill the ones who did that to him. For now, that would suffice.

 

"So, tell me more about this new pilot. Did we hire another nutcase?" Werner asked conversationally.

 

Prophet 2 remained silent.

 

"Okay, my mistake. What kind of nutcase did we hire this time?" Werner shook his head, correcting himself.

 

"Child soldier, age 16. Rescued from a FutureTech operation we shut down; they'd combined the research the Japs and the Russkies did to create an indoctrination program incorporating both cybernetics and genetic augmentation. When Prophet 1 had seen what we'd found, she ordered me to wipe the records and burn the facility down to ash and glass."

 

"You mean... someone combined the worst of Winters and Fukagawa." Werner joked. "Man, no wonder she had you burn all that. One of them alone is enough on her hands already."

 

Prophet 2 shook his head, his jaw set in a hard line. "You can't imagine what they did to her. Fukagawa was trained from young, but he was raised a soldier, not a murderer. And Winters was probably an asshole from the beginning, anyway. But this girl, and all the others we didn't manage to save... they were broken, Werner. Back in the day, I'd seen Auschwitz, and what they did came quite close.

 

"Frankly, I'd have judged her unfit for combat on grounds of her psych evaluation, but the boss has gotten jittery after she heard about the Terminators." Prophet 2 continued grimly. "She wanted every single fighting-fit pilot we had out there in an Angel Suit, and we will be dispatching our full complement on higher-risk missions."

 

"Still, unstable or not, we do need those extra hands. If not for his jet pack burning out, that Terminator might have nailed me; it'd be good having another squad-mate at my back, especially one with test scores that high. You'll be putting her in a high-performance machine like the Archangel, aren't you?" Werner ducked to avoid a low-hanging pipe -- while the Avalon was spacious by submarine standards, there was always the occasional reminder that they were still for all intents and purposes trapped in a giant tin can three hundred meters below the waves.

 

"Actually, no." Prophet 2 said with a wag of his finger. "You'll be taking the Archangel out for a couple of weeks; Dr. Braun reported that the G-Engines took a hit in the last fight, and she has to get them re-synchronized if you don't want your ride exploding mid-flight. Damn it, son, your fancy-pants custom machine's a real pain in the ass to maintain, you know. She'll be in the Mercy."

 

"That hunk of junk's barely better than, well, [Agent]'s hunk of junk! And that's just performance-wise -- isn't that thing loaded with nothing but less-lethal munitions?" Werner protested.

 

"Precisely." Upon noticing Werner's puzzled frown, Prophet 2 continued, "It's not about her -- it's about the lives of everyone else on the battlefield we set that thing loose on."
 

Moments later, they reached the meeting room -- it was almost as though the long corridors in the Avalon seemed precisely long enough for someone to deliver a good monologue before reaching their destination. Winters and Fukagawa were already there, and so was the new girl. She looked normal, though -- nothing at all suggested that she was the monstrous berserker Prophet 2 had warned him about.

 

"Hello there, young lady!" Werner said brightly. "Oh... and hello, you two." he waved half-heartedly towards Rainn, who was seemingly grounded in his wheelchair. That was probably Cassi's idea of a fitting punishment for whatever mess he'd created this time round. "I'm Werner von Stroheim, former FutureTech merc -- no hard feelings, I hope -- and pilot of the AS-028 Juggernaut Hecatonchires. Also, perhaps the only pilot we've got who didn't have some kind of messed up upbringing, like Fukagawa and Winters here, or..." He stopped short, and turned towards Prophet 2, whispering, "Just what is [Agent]'s deal, anyway?"

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Anya's laughter resonated throughout the hallways as Takeshi fell to the floor, his head hitting it with a rather painful sounding bump. "Don't feel too bad, mister," she replied, wiping tears of laughter from her eyes, "Miss Jacklyn falls for that all the time." Helping him to his feet with suprising ease, thanks to the carbon fibre synth-muscles her arms were made from, she tuned around as three more people entered the room, the first being the old grandpa see recognized as Prophet 2, the second being a wheelchair bound person who called her a "loli" (Anya made a mental note to get him back next time) and another person who was...blind? At least he was kind enough to greet her. "Hi, Mr Weiner! My name's Anya, Anya Justerire." She finished her sentence off by doing a rather elaborate pirouette (which probably would have made most people throw up).

 

Before Werner could protest being called a sausage, the doors once again flew open, this time Prophet 1 ("Loli Alpha", she had overheard Rainn mutter) entering the room. Despite being even younger and shorter than Anya, she had some sort of commanding aura that made even Anya think twice about messing with her. Still, if what she had heard was right, she was pretty much the most competent leader in the Avalon currently, Prophet 2 a close second.

 

Doing a mental tally, she once again sighed as she counted one missing. "Alright," she asked, "Where's [Agent]?" Before anyone could reply, she just sighed again. "Alright, forget it. Probably doing...[Agent] stuff." As she raised her hand, a plethora of monitors integrated into the wall behind her flashed to life, displaying schematics and infomation for their next mission. 

 

"Right, before we get started on mission briefing, meet the latest member of our group, Anya. Everyone, meet Anya. Anya, meet everyone." Anya herself gave a big cheerful grin, a stark contrast to the look of absolute apathy on Prophet 1's face, who simply continued on. "If intel is correct, she's every bit as competent as the rest of you. Regardless, it's still her first mission with you guys, so I want you to keep a close eye on her, is that understood?" The rest of the room mouthed a half-hearted "Yes ma'am." Anya herself settled for a pout.

 

"Moving on," Prophet 1 motioned to the screen, which switched to an aerial view of a city, "Our next mission will take place in Tokyo, Japan. Intel states a there's a secret FutureTech research lab in the city itself, right inside Oshigawa Tower." The display of the screen switched to a tall skyscraper, its sleek glass and steel construction standing out in an already futuristic city. "In case you didn't know. Oshigawa Tower is the tallest tower in Tokyo right now. Cost a few billion yen to build, most of it sponsored by FutureTech itself. Anyone would like to guess where in the building this particular lab is located?"

 

"The basement?" asked Prophet 2, "Seems to be the most secure location for a research lab."

 

"That's what they want us to think. No, this lab is located on the top floor, the 130th floor. I hope you guys aren't afraid of heights." She gave a small chuckle, though no one else seemed to notice. "Anyway, I initially proposed an aerial assault, a quick smash and grab. Unfortunately, intel also states hidden anti air defenses as well as several aerial ExoSuit squadrons located inside the tower itself. While I normally would leave you guys to take of those yourself, simulations show heavy collateral damage and civilian casualties if we were to engage outside the tower. So, that leaves us with the second plan." The displayed yet again switched to a different picture of the tower, this time the main entrance of the tower, which seemed to have a couple of guards in ExoSuits posted at either sides of the doorway.

 

"We storm the tower. I hope you like climbing." As the rest of the crew moaned at climbing 130 floors, Anya included, Prophet 1 allowed herself a smile. 

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