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Armored Core (PG-13)

Discussion in 'Role-Playing Games' started by Kamotz, Aug 6, 2012.

  1. Kamotz

    Kamotz God of Monsters

    Armored Core

    (Rated PG-13)

    "This is a Call to Arms"

    North American Alliance
    New York City, New York
    Collared Corporate Headquarters (NAA East Coast)
    9:15 AM

    "Useless ass," Claire growled as she stormed out of the Collared meeting room, paperwork in hand. Her payout for the last assignment just barely covered the mission expenses, all because of her useless-as-dirt Operator. First he hot-drops her into a combat zone without waiting for the grid layout to render, essentially throwing her on the defensive from the get-go. Then he spills coffee on himself and while he's cleaning himself off he fails to notify her about a barrage of incoming artillery fire that scarred the hell out of her Valkyria.

    "Useless ass!" she snapped again. On top of it all, he had the gall to ask for the thirty-five percent of the mission take. If only she hadn't signed a written contract with him before the mission began...but that wasn't how Collared worked.

    She glanced down at her paperwork; she'd made only half-a-million dollars on this most recent mission. By any other accounts it would be an exorbitant amount of money for only a day's work, but Irregulars had different budgets. With her useless-as-hell Operator taking thirty-five percent, that left her with a paltry $325,000 to cover her expenses. The repairs alone would cost about $125,000, and then she still had to pay for ammunition and general upkeep; hangar rent, Luminium energy cells, interior cleaning (it sometimes got hot and sweaty in the cockpits). All in all, it would leave her with a mere $125,000 profit; not a bad take for the average Joe, but then again Irregulars were just that: irregular.

    "I'll need to take another job soon," Claire muttered. She contemplated maybe even something with a wing-man. It'd certainly help her with the usually-incompetent Operators Collared seemed to enjoy sticking her with. She'd heard that there were some incredible Operators out there, but in seven years working for Collared she hadn't met a single one.

    Most Operators spent half the mission trying to flirt with her, and while she appreciated the gesture, romance was the last thing on her mind when in the middle of a hail of gunfire. In the end, she supposed she was just less impressed with Operators, who chose to stay well and safe behind the battle lines. And she had yet to meet an Operator that seemed genuinely concerned with her wellbeing beyond her ability to get him or herself another paycheck.

    Claire took out her PDA to check for any new jobs. She fingered through the phone's touch screen menu and opened up the Collared mission bulletin. The credit-card sized device emitted a holographic image as she maneuvered her way through the various missions. One managed to catch her eye: a quick smash-job in Madagascar; an order to take down a rebel group threatening the region's stability. And the price was--

    "Fifteen million? There's no way!" she gasped. She wondered what kind of client had that kind of money to throw around, and what kind of insane rebels were worth fifteen million.

    Claire glanced over the mission statement again just to make sure her eyes weren't playing tricks on her, and she felt a tingle of excitement run through her. The mission was a group-based one. The client had asked for a team of Irregulars to participate. That was fine with Claire; a team mission meant less ammo expenditure and less risk of damage. Even if it were a ten-way split she'd still go home with more than one million in her pocket, and with the reduced risk she could probably take most of that as profit. She needed the Valkyria ready soon, so she called the hanger operator.

    "How quickly can you get the Valkyria back to operational capacity?" she asked the manager as she made her way towards the designated conference room.

    "A day or so. Why?" the man answered.

    "I need it for a mission again. I'll pay you 125-percent of your standard fee if you get it ready for me in the next 12 hours," she offered, eager to get the next mission started. The last was already a bust, so she didn't mind spending what little she had kept for herself to get her machine ready for the next one.


    Claire hung up as she entered the meeting room, and was surprised to find far fewer Irregulars in attendance than she had expected. None of the higher-ranking Collared operatives were there; none of the Originals, either.

    "Strange," she muttered as she took a seat in the back of the room and waited for the briefing to start. There were about fifteen Irregulars in attendance, a few that she recognized, but she'd never met any of them personally. Hopefully the mission briefing would discourage some of them from attending, but Claire was determined to see this payday through.

    "Welcome. Here is the mission," the Collared representative at the head of the room began. The screen behind him flickered on. "The mission benefactor has chosen to remain anonymous, but funds have already been added to Collared accounts."

    Claire raised an eyebrow; anonymous mission donors weren't uncommon, but with something of this scale, it would be hard to keep the source under wraps. Still, it wasn't Collared's business to snoop where they weren't asked to.

    "Your target is the rebel group 'Blue Africa' and their inner circle of commanders," the man continued. The image on the screen behind him shifted to show a picture of the rebel group's logo and name, and the information on their ten highest-ranking members. "There are reports that the group has disrupted trade between the countries of the former African Union, and has engaged in attacks against local governments and corporations."

    Claire nodded; that was likely where the funding for the mission was coming from. A large group of benefactors would be able to throw together a much larger pile of cash and attract a large group of Irregulars to take care of their problem more quickly. It meant several things; that this 'Blue Africa' was either incredibly powerful and its methods very effective, or its ideals were attracting more people and garnering more influence than the powers-that-be could afford.

    "Intelligence reports have positioned the rebels' base somewhere within Lybia," the Collared rep reported. The screen behind him showed a satellite view of the island. "Satellite and thermal imaging positions their base of operations in Tripoli. Your objective is to eliminate Blue Africa's ability to disrupt the economic and political workings of the region, and to either capture or eliminate the inner circle of commanders."

    "How are we getting to the region?" Claire asked, eager to get started. She wasn't sure how they would organize the command structure either, but was less concerned.

    "Collared will provide transportation to the USS Tungsten, an NAA aircraft carrier stationed in the area that we've been allowed use of for the mission," the man responded. "Your Operators will run specs from there while the Irregular team breaks into the compound. Once Blue Africa is neutralized and its command is either restrained or eliminated, crew from the Tungsten will be dispatched to confirm or collect them."

    "Seems like you got this all thought out," Claire said, stepping forward from the back of the room. "Why do you need so many Irregulars anyway? Two or three would be more than enough...unless you don't know the enemy's capabilities."

    "An astute observation, Scarlet," the man said with a smirk. "Which is why we chose you as one of the possible candidates to participate in this mission to begin with."

    Claire frowned; so that was why there were so few Irregulars present for the briefing for such a high-paying job. Collared had only posted the bulletin to a select few individuals and would be selecting the participants from the smaller pool of candidates that showed. But what were their criteria? Was it just random, or was there something the Irregulars in the room shared?

    "So there's no information on the enemy's armament?" Claire asked, still frowning. The man was entirely too at ease with withholding information. Claire suspected that if she hadn't broached the subject, they wouldn't have been informed of the enemy's capabilities whatsoever.

    "You can assume the standard armaments of most militia," the man said offhandedly. "Anti-aircraft guns, heavy tanks and gunships, and likely several configurations of third and fourth generation Armored Core Normal units and first and second generation Armored Core Mobile-Turret units. Nothing a unit of skilled Irregulars like yourselves can't handle."

    "Unless there's more than that," Claire chipped in. "You said so yourself, we don't know whether Blue Africa has Irregulars of its own at its disposal, and that could considerably even the playing field."

    "It's highly unlikely that--"

    "But according to your own information, it's not beyond the realm of possibility," Claire interjected. "Which would be another reason to hire a team of Collared Irregulars instead of just one or two as usual."

    The man was stunned to silence; it wasn't every day that Irregulars spoke out against the intelligence provided to them, so when they did it was something worth noting. He didn't lash out, however, and made a mental note to review Claire's file.

    "That is all, ladies and gentlemen," he said, standing straight. The screen behind him flickered off and the lights in the room turned on. "You'll be receiving word of your acceptance in two hours, once the decisions have been made. Your departure time and place will be included in the full briefing. Thank you."

    "That was new," Claire muttered as she watched the man leave.

    "You all enjoy this one," said one of the Irregulars. Claire recognized him as Jessie Hoyt, the Collared Rank-28 Irregular. "No way I'm getting roped into this mess." He gave them a wave and left the room.

    "I'm with him," said a woman, probably around Claire's age. Her name, Kathleen Lawrence, was embroidered onto her jacket; she was the Rank-27 Irregular, if Claire wasn't mistaken.

    Claire frowned as the two left. They weren't of the highest ranks, but their Armored Cores, the Kodiak Hammer and the Blood Titan, were exceptionally powerful: heavyweight bombardment and combat types. If they were concerned with the outcome of the mission...

    "More for me then," Claire said decidedly. She wouldn't put off a big pay-day like this just because some of the others were getting cold feet. And she'd already promised the hangar manager a bonus of he completed her repairs ahead of schedule.


    May 11[SUP]th[/SUP], 2099
    North American Alliance
    New York City, New York
    Collared Irregular Quarters
    Apartment Z-0
    6:00 AM

    Lance woke from a dreamless sleep. He never dreamed, not for a long time anyway, not since the day his happy little world exploded and everything was taken away. He figured there was nothing left to dream about after that. He didn't think he was missing out on much anyway, so it never bothered him.

    Because he didn't dream, when he woke his vision was sharp. He was instantly aware of his surroundings, of exits and entrances, of obstacles and obstructions. It wasn't a panicked concern or paranoia; he never really felt things like that. Rather, it was an extreme awareness, built and honed from years of necessity that sharpened him and brought him clarity when everyone else would still be reeling from the mind-numbing haze of sleep. It made the eerie morning calm that much more disconcerting. Because there was danger in silence, anticipation of swift, violent movement lurked in the still darkness.

    His trepidation last only for an instant. Only for a brief moment he was alone, only for the space of time between when his eyes snapped open and took their first blink. Then he felt it stir again, as it did each morning. He felt it, drawing up, rising within him, huge and vast. With a single breath it swelled and filled the dark spaces behind his eyes. That dark thing, his passenger, was always with him. It was an animal acknowledging and evaluating its surroundings, and it took only a moment to reaffirm that it was indeed still the most dangerous thing in the immediate vicinity; the top of the food chain, the apex predator. Hyper-lethal.

    And then the darkness wasn't dangerous anymore, and neither was the silence, because they both belonged to the thing.

    He felt something move beside him in the dark, a shifting of warm bed sheets and soft skin. He looked to the silk-covered form next to him; she was all blonde hair and gentle curves, still drowned in warm slumber, curled beneath the sheets.

    Serra must have come in last night, as she always seemed to do, after some night-noise or nightmare left her shaken.

    Another reason why he appreciated his not-dreaming.

    She'd crawl in, shuffling the blankets, moving pillows, shifting the mattress, and slide next to him. She'd curl up and turn away, her back just barely touching his arm, just enough that he could feel the heat, the nearness of her body. And he had to admit, that was actually kinda nice.

    She started doing it the third night after they'd moved in together. She probably would have done it the first two also, but unlike him she had a sense of social decorum and held off as long as she could. Which, apparently, was two whole nights. At first, he found it unbearable: that she would just walk in and interrupt his sleep! It was one of the very few things he actually enjoyed. Of the three things he did genuinely enjoy, it was rather high on the list. Definitely in the top three. Maybe even in the top two.

    But Serra didn't care about any of that, because fear has a way of making itself seem more important than anything else, especially his sleep habits. And though Serra put on as brave a face as anyone else, he knew she was afraid. He always knew, because his passenger could tell these things about people, and he knew whatever it knew. He didn't exactly know what she was afraid of, but the little scars on her back and arms, and just above one eyebrow, told a story. And scars were stories he was familiar with.

    He ran a few calloused fingertips lightly over the exposed skin of her back. He traced one of the small scars, and his gaze lingered on the two larger ones that crossed over either shoulder blade. Here, despite the marks and scars, she was unblemished in the realness of her beauty. She was marred by physical abuse, and yet she was perfect: pure, flawless beauty. Even he could see that. All the imperfections, the scars, the crass intrusion into his sleep cycle, the annoying way she constantly pulled the blankets up around her that left his feet freezing cold the next morning, and the way she would stab him with one of those viciously-pointed elbows when he shoved his freezing feet up against her legs…it made her real, so unlike him. Serra was truly human: everything he was not.

    "That explains why my feet are so damn cold," he said in a voice that was probably just a bit too loud for that early-morning, because Serra heard him, and whether she was aware of it or not, she mumbled a sleepy "fuck you" and rolled over, pulling even more of the blankets with her. He resisted the sudden urge to yank away the blankets and flip her off the mattress. Not because of any crisis of conscience, no, he was lucky to not be burdened with one of those useless things, but because then she'd groggily storm out to her room leaving him to clean up, wasting more of his early-morning than he wanted. And he wasn't quite ready to give that up.

    He rose from the bed in a single purposeful motion, not because of any sense of urgency or purpose, but simply because that was the way he always moved. Move quickly, quietly, swiftly, and you'll survive longer. He readjusted his awkwardly sleep-twisted boxers that pressed certain bits against other bits and really made walking uncomfortable, and shivered as the cold climbed over his bare, sleep-warmed torso. And that warm spot next to Serra looked much more inviting than the cold apartment and cold tile floor, but laying wide awake in bed didn't seem like a very productive use of his time, and he had things to do. So he let the cold settle over him in a wave that seemed to ripple down the length of his body and excite the passenger with the prospect of a new day. He never understood why.

    He padded softly into the kitchen, together with his passenger. They left the lights off, let the grey early-morning filter through the rain-spattered windows. They liked the dark. The dark was safe, because if one stayed there long enough one's eyes adjusted, and pitch black became a world of grey, and everyone else was blind, but he could see. He, and his dark thing, that sat behind his eyes in the back passenger seat of his brain-car. The thing was king of the dark, of the pitch-black. It and it alone ruled that shadowy world, and because it was currently residing in his brain, it sort of made him a prince…or at least a duke of the dark. He liked the sound of that.

    The passenger chuckled.

    The whirling, sputtering noise of his coffee brewer clamored through the grey-blue silence. Like sleep, coffee—at least good coffee—was one of his three genuine pleasures. And like sleep it was definitely up there, possibly, in top three. He didn't know why, but something about its warmth...

    He turned to face the windows and looked over the bleak city skyline, or what little he could see from the apartment. He watched the heavy black clouds roll by. There was never rain like this in Israel, only heat and sand and sun. And sometimes fire. More than sometimes, really. A cold wind swept through, ruffling the falling rain. And he would've been cold if it weren't for the coffee in his hand and belly, warming his body.

    He stretched, wincing as every joint and ligament from his back to his shoulders all the way to his fingers made cracking noises that seemed far too loud for someone his age. But explosions and bullets and shrapnel and broken bones had a way of making you feel older. He felt a shiver crawl up his back and over his shoulders, and he glared down accusingly at the coffee that wasn't doing its job.

    And there was a chuckle, low and throaty and condescending, from the passenger behind his eyes.

    His eyesight sharpened as the bedroom door opened and Serra strode out. He let out a calming breath; he was on edge, and that wasn't good, or safe...for anyone.

    "Thank you for waking me," she said, her voice even. Anyone unfamiliar with Serra's mannerisms might have taken that statement at face value, but Lance was far more adept at reading and understanding her, and he sensed the well of sarcasm in her voice.

    "I didn't think you needed looking-after," Lance said back, his voice just as matter-of-fact. "And you have a habit of drinking my coffee."

    "Since when was there a limit on how much we can make?" Serra asked, her eyes sharp and accusing. But there was a playfulness in her voice that only Lance could have discerned. It was the game they played. He tried his best to appear human and vulnerable, while she did her best not to, and they'd call each other on it. Not in so many words, of course.

    Lance shrugged and stepped out of her way. Despite their comfort with one another, and despite what others might have believed, they were not a couple, or lovers, or fuck-buddies...well, not most of the time, at least. He could only describe their relationship as allies, partners, or even perhaps...accomplices.

    "Briefing is in twenty-five minutes," Lance said. He passed her an empty mug. Serra didn't answer directly, but he sensed her minute change in body posture that indicated she had heard him.

    "I've heard rumors that Collared is assembling an entire flight-group," said Serra. "Seems like some rebel group in Madagascar has been giving the UN forces a bit of trouble."

    "Since when were you one to indulge the rumor mill?" Lance asked with a smirk.

    "A girl has to indulge once in a while," Serra replied, though her meaning was double-edged. She leaned forward provocatively, posed against the counter-top. "Care to join me?"

    It was their game again, always trying to break the mask of the other. Lance knew she was being less-than-serious...mostly. Their arrangement only worked because they were both unable to offer anything more, and refused to break their unspoken truce, the agreement of what was and what had to be.

    "We'd end up being late," he said. Game or not, unspoken or not, he refused to let her have the last word, to win their war of wits and wills.

    Lance glanced outside; the dark storm clouds hung low, filling the early-morning sky. Rain pattered against the window, lulling Lance into a false sense of white-noise security. He stood watching the rain for a few minutes, allowing himself to be drawn into its rhythm and form. In another time and place, the same rains had extinguished the fire and washed away the blood of his second birth, when he was ripped screaming and crying from beneath the charred and sopping corpses of his mother and father. When he first met his passenger in the back of that ambulance. When it first began to whisper in his ear. The rains seemed to welcome him once more.

    Then he withdrew, and returned himself to the sky-darkened room. Alone except for Serra; except for the hushed fall of water droplets over window panes and soft skin. A silence settled between them, but it was a comfortable one.

    "Ready?" Serra gave him a smile, a real one, a sad one; because all her real smiles were sad.

    He nodded and led the way down to the elevator. Their walk to and ride down the elevator was taken in that same comfortable silence, one that developed from a deeper connection and understanding than most could recognize. Because He understood her, and she understood him and, perhaps, even accepted him.

    Lance's car was waiting for them by their building's valet. All--or at least many--of Collared's North American Irregulars were required to have some sort of semi-permanent residence in the building. Lance wasn't sure why; putting that many killers together under one roof was only inviting disaster. He could only guess that they wanted to keep the greatest weapons in the world somewhere that they could keep their eyes on them; keep them under their control. Collared.

    Lance banished those thoughts from his mind as he slid into the front passenger's seat of the white Audi. Beside him, Serra adjusted the mirrors and seat before seamlessly pulling forward and merging with the fevered flow of city traffic. The Audi was one of Lance's only possessions of any real value apart from his Armored Core, and he was reluctant to let anyone else go near it. But Serra wasn't just anyone. Between the two of them he might have been the ace pilot, but she was one hell of a driver.

    Serra wove between city traffic, skimming past other drivers by a matter of mere inches. Horns blared in their wake, but Serra paid them no heed, blitzing through stop signs and red lights without breaking stride. She remained passive, completely at ease as she tore down crowded city streets and weaved into oncoming lanes of traffic.

    Though they were moving at more than ninety miles per hour, the world seemed to crawl by. After the accelerated speeds of his Armored Core, other modes of transportation seemed crushingly slow. Part of Lance longed for the embrace of the White Glint; it was one of only two places where things seemed to make sense; where he had a purpose. Another part, the tiny part of him that still held to some shred of humanity, loathed it and the other thing he did; hated the sound of gunfire, the scream of missiles, the pop of energy bolts, and flashing of silver. But the last part of him, his dweller within, the Dark Passenger, cared little either way. It pushed Lance forward, silently demanding--urging--him. To what, Lance didn't always know. But it was the loudest voice he'd ever heard.
  2. storymasterb

    storymasterb Knight of RPGs

    (Sorry this took so long. I had other stuff which jumped in and got in the way of writing until today.)

    North American Alliance
    Los Angeles, California
    Private House
    6:12 AM

    A rustling sound roused her from her slumber. In a moment, reflexes heightened by years of being taught the softest sound could be her only warning of impending death catapulted her awake, her eyes opening in a heartbeat. She was met with the sight of one side of her room, of a blue-painted wall and a white door, pushed ajar rather than closed. Clothes lay discarded roughly over the floor, a shirt here, tight black trousers there, skimpy underwear over there. She glanced to the door, seeing the sunlight pouring down from the other end of the landing. No shadows disrupted it. This analysis took her perhaps a second, enough time for eyes sharpened by hell to discern no threat in that direction. She made to turn over swiftly, to check the rest of the room, and her hand brushed warm, soft skin.

    Cynthia glanced over her shoulder, eyes drawn by the lithe figure curled into sheets and coverings beside her. The two lay apart, a slight gulf of fabric between them, the younger woman's hair a splatter of black across the cool blue of the pillow on which her head rested. On seeing her, the pilot let a silent sigh escape her lips. Nothing. Just another bedfellow from a night in the dark under the blazing lights. Moving with graceful motions, she slipped from beneath the sheets to stand, stretching her limbs to shake off the numbing touch of sleep. Quietly stalking across the room, she snatched up a loose silk gown from the door, wrapping it around her naked body. Tying the ribbon-belt of cloth taut around her waist, she slipped out of the room, leaving her partner of the night before to rest in blissful sleep.

    People like her couldn't afford such luxuries.

    Descending down the staircase, feet gliding over soft green carpet, she strode into the kitchen. Gazing out of the window over Los Angeles, she took in her home, the shadows still dancing through the buildings and reaching out, even as the sunlight rose up, glistening from the water of the bay in the distance. Despite the splendor of the vista, she spared it a second's glance and no more, looking around. Everything was as she recalled. No sign of intrusion. Glancing through the doorway into the sitting room, she found that undisturbed also. Everything seemed in order.

    Turning to the fridge, she retrieved a carton of orange juice from it, pouring herself a glass. She took a sip, relishing the taste before swallowing it. It was strange. In Russia, she would have woken up in the morning, gotten dressed and gone to kill someone. She briefly wondered how long her... bedfellow was going to sleep in. Collared would undoubtedly be expecting her to check in with their local office at some point in the day. Not to mention she needed more money soon. The costs of her lifestyle added up quickly, leaving her to go into battle once more to fuel a wild life of clubs and luxury, of waking up in the morning with people she barely knew.

    She retrieved an apple from a bowl in the worktop's corner, taking a bite from it as she crossed the room to sit at the small table in the corner. The table could fit one person. Two at a pinch, except only one chair was placed by it. She didn't dine with company. Family and friends had both been left in Russia, either shivering in the snow or buried in the cold earth. And the company she brought home often wandered out with only a cursory goodbye and perhaps a thanks for the time together.

    It was best that way. People getting too close was a danger. The person holding your hand could stick a knife in your back when you least expected it. No, better to stay distant, to keep an eye on everyone. That had been the first lesson. Trust no-one. Suspect everyone. Everyone is a threat, no matter how innocent they appear.

    One of the stairs creaked, and she stiffened. Slowly placing down the spoon, she gazed around to them. The young woman descended down them, all raven hair and pale skin, neck marked red and purple, body wrapped in a borrowed white gown.

    "I heard you come downstairs..." she called to Cynthia, clearly still tired.

    "Sorry," she said. "I wanted to let you sleep."

    "No, no... it's fine... I'd better be going," she sighed.

    "Come and get some coffee," the pilot replied. "You don't have to go yet."

    Surprise crossed the pale woman's features. "Really?"

    "Relax," Cynthia said. "It's fine." Getting a clear look at her bedfellow made her realize how young this one was. She had that naive look of doe-eyed innocence about her, that softness which spoke of a warm, sheltered life. She couldn't have been more than twenty-one. It was almost endearing watching her awkwardly pick her way across the hall into the kitchen, eyes fixed on her host the whole way.

    "Thank you..." the young woman murmured.

    "It's no problem." It was a borderline lie, hidden by a mask of emotions which were half-real half-fake. She was glad to not sleep alone, to have someone there with her. And yet, now, there was an awkwardness to things. It wasn't that she didn't even know the other woman's name, even as she made herself coffee with Cynthia's own coffee machine in Cynthia's mug with Cynthia's ingredients. It had been there the night before too, just blunted. But now in the cool of the morning, she found it returning, the instincts hammered into her, the lessons. Trust no-one. Suspect everyone. Everyone is a threat. Be prepared to kill anyone you meet. Already the eye of an assassin studied the young woman's body out of habit, picking out ways to leave her nothing but a broken shell on the kitchen floor. It would take a moment and be silent. It was so easy for her to kill someone, she had made it easy for herself. The same hand which held the spoon could just as easily break a person and leave them dead at her feet.

    Cynthia forced herself back to her cereal. "What's your name?"

    The other woman paused, about to sip her coffee. "Mary... why?"

    "Just courtesy, I guess," the pilot mused. "I'm Cynthia." She finished her cereal, picking up the bowl and carrying it over to the sink. She stood just inches from Mary as she placed it into the basin, close enough to breath in her scent. She took a glance at her, looking at the younger woman. Immediately she found herself drifting into how to kill her, and sharply turned away.

    "Cynthia, are you alright?" She knew even though she couldn't see that Mary was reaching out, suddenly paralyzed mid-reach by shyness.

    "It's fine," she said. "I'm going to go get ready... I have stuff to do later. Help yourself to breakfast." She was gone from the kitchen near-silently, slipping upstairs and leaving Mary alone gazing after her.


    The shower water was almost scalding on her skin and she didn't care as it washed over her. She ran her hands through her hair, thoughts caught in her schedule. Collared had something for her to do, she guessed. And she still needed money. In other words, it was time to head back into the fray. To destroy and kill in her other body.

    As the water flowed across her body, Cynthia leaned back against the wall. She wondered briefly what mission she might pick up this time. Terrorist cells in the Middle East? Drug barons in South America? It didn't matter. She could kill anyone in her path regardless. That was how it had always been, even back in Russia. And how it still was, even now.


    North American Alliance
    Los Angeles, California
    Residential District
    9:03 AM

    “Thank you for the breakfast.”

    “It's no problem,” Cynthia murmured. “This was on the way to work anyway, so it's not any inconvenience for me.”

    “I could've just walked though,” Mary said. “It wasn't all that far.”

    “It's fine,” the other woman said quietly. “Sorry to rush you, but I need to go. I'm going to be late otherwise.”

    “Oh, okay... thank you.” With that she was gone, and Cynthia drove away down the street. The sun was rising up into the sky now, the city awakening from its slumber to begin a new day. As she drove, she began to see more cars in motion, more people bringing Los Angeles to life.

    Leaving the residential area in which she lived, she headed into the bustle and noise of the city. The roar of engines, the sound of people talking, and more. It still seemed strange to her, all this noise. In Russia the streets were deathly quiet, usually. Her home back there had been all snow and silence for much of her life, with only the odd change to that.

    Navigating through the streets, she came to one of many glistening office buildings, all steel and glass, shining brilliantly in the splendor of the daybreak. How American, she mused with an inner smile which lasted only a moment. Pulling into the building's underground parking lot, she quickly found a space. Swinging the pale blue Jaguar model into place, she killed the engine and got out, striding through the space to the elevator.

    The elevator took her to the tenth floor in a fraction of a minute, leaving her to then navigate a maze of corridors. Fortunately, she only ever had to come to one office here, and she had memorized the pathway from all the times she had walked these corridors. Coming to the office, she knocked on the door, and was met with a call of 'come in!'

    Doing so, she stood as usual in a fairly large space, with plain white walls and a deep blue carpet. Only one piece of furniture was in view, the desk, a block of pale wood with a black leather chair behind it. Sat in the chair was a typical executive figure, a black-haired man in a charcoal-hue suit, with steel-rimmed glasses. He looked up from his laptop's screen, gazing at her.

    “Ah, Young. As always, it's a pleasure.”

    “Likewise,” she replied. “So, what work is there on the books that I could do?”

    “Hm, there's this,” the man commented. “PDA?” She handed him her phone and he connected it to his computer, uploading several files in the span of a second before removing the phone and passing it to her. She activated it, and a holographic display appeared, a map plus text. She read it through, taking only a few minutes to survey the information.

    “Blue Africa...” she mused. Back in Russia, she had dealt with them once. A representative of theirs had come to the syndicate, asking for aid from the group in their anti-corporate agenda. She had been sent to talk with their representative and get information about the group to held the syndicate's leaders come to their decision. On that occasion, she had left Blue Africa behind with distaste, uninterested by their agenda and irritated by the representative's shabbiness. She hadn't heard about them since.

    “They're an anti-corporate group,” the man began.

    “I know,” she replied. “I've encountered them before.” She immediately mentally cursed herself for giving that away. “In any case, fifteen million in payment?”

    “Divided between everyone who participates.”

    “Even so, I doubt the team would be that large, and the profit from that would be significant,” she considered. “Deploy from the USS Tungsten... I see. I'd have to find some way to get there.”

    “Collared will arrange your transportation if you accept the mission,” the executive replied.

    “I intend to,” she answered. It seemed like a clean break, after all. Unusual, but if the team was as small as she thought, she'd come out of this with something like 375 million. That would be more than enough to hold off any money issues for a good while. “Any idea why they're requesting a group? Two Irregulars could handle Blue Africa, as far as I can see from the briefing on their capabilities.”

    “And your prior encounter, I presume,” the man noted. “In any instance, we're not entirely sure why. I can only imagine the benefactor wants Blue Africa removed with minimal risk and as quickly as possible. It's likely that the group's managed to annoy someone important with their activities.”

    “I see,” Cynthia mused. “Well, I'll take part in this, in any case.”

    “Excellent,” he smiled. “It's been a pleasure to see you, Young.”

    “It was nice to see you too.” With that, she left the room, quickly tapping a name in her phone's contacts list. “Leon. Get the Winter Eagle prepared. I've got a mission.”

    North American Alliance
    New York City, New York
    Collared Corporate Headquarters (NAA East Coast)
    9:15 AM

    Sat in the briefing room, Ezekiel regarded the other Irregulars present. He didn't like coming to New York. He did it sometimes, but only when he felt he needed to, or because Collared ordered him to come to Headquarters for some reason.

    Now he was sat in the briefing room, dressed in a vaguely formal manner, gazing around and waiting for the briefing to begin. He knew a few of the other Irregulars in the room, having met them in some hellhole or another around the world, or seen them here in New York.

    The briefing began and passed, with Ezekiel growing more intrigued by the minute. At first, it seemed straightforward, but then he began to mentally pick holes in the briefing. If Blue Africa were so minor, why call for a team of Irregulars rather than just the two or three he'd expect? Why was the benefactor anonymous, and offering such a large reward? It seemed unusual.

    "Unless there's more than that," Claire chipped in. "You said so yourself, we don't know whether Blue Africa has Irregulars of its own at its disposal, and that could considerably even the playing field."

    That caught his attention. It was true, they didn't know if Blue Africa had their own Irregulars, unlikely as that might be. Collared didn't have a monolopy on Irregulars, though most of the Irregulars did at the least get their missions via Collared. It was entirely possible for a renegade Irregular or two to side with revolutionary or terrorist groups, if rare.

    Even so, suggesting that openly when it practically defied the briefing they'd been giving... this woman was either brave or stupid. There was a reason few Irregulars chose to defy Collared.

    "It's highly unlikely that--"

    "But according to your own information, it's not beyond the realm of possibility," Claire interjected. "Which would be another reason to hire a team of Collared Irregulars instead of just one or two as usual."

    It made sense.

    Not that that lessened the impact of what she had done, of course. Though Ezekiel remained stoic as ever, his interest was at least piqued. As the briefing concluded, he was pondering it coldly and clinically. He could use the money, of course. And getting what looked to be a reasonable sum for what should be a straightforward mission was a welcome benefit.

    As he left the room, he retrieved his phone from his coat pocket, quickly calling a number. “Listen. I need the Reaper combat-ready soon.” This was another reason he hated coming to New York, having to organize alternate storage for his Armored Core while he was in the NAA. “Ideally, within twelve hours. There's a mission I'm planning to take part in. It looks fairly low-key and simple, but I'd rather be prepared. Just make sure it's ready on time.”

    Hanging up and pocketing the phone, he glanced to the side as someone approached.

    “You planning to get involved, Ezekiel?” the man asked. He was black, dressed in a tank top and jeans, phone clipped to his belt.

    “Are you, Emile?” Ezekiel asked hazily.

    “I don't think so,” Emile frowned. “The details are off. That woman had some nerve speaking back to Collared,” he chuckled, “but she had it right. There's something off about this whole thing. I don't think I'd like to get myself into that sort of shit. Not when I can go tearing up terrorists in the Middle East or something instead. Something straightforward.”

    “Well, I'll give this a try,” the coat-wearer said. “The Azrael might fit in in the Middle East, but, heh, I don't think the Reaper's quite so fitting.”

    Emile chuckled. “Watch your back, Ezekiel. This crap of yours smells like politics to me, and we both know how quickly politics can mess shit up when they get you dragged in.”

    “I will, so long as you watch yours,” Ezekiel said. “See you sometime, Emile. Hopefully not staring the Azrael in the face.”

    The black man smirked. “I'd hate to have to gut your Reaper too. Stay sharp.” With that, he turned and walked away, leaving Ezekiel to make his own way through the corridors. As he walked away, he thought about. Emile was a hardcore pilot, one who'd fought in the wars before the New Geneva Convention, and who had achieved much there. If even he was turned away by this mission, along with several other high-ranking pilots he'd seen with negative expressions after the briefing, there was clearly something off about the mission. But even so, it seemed straightforward enough, and the reward was clear.

    So he'd take it on, and deal with any problems as they arose. That was how things got done, after all.
  3. niedude

    niedude Don't forget to grin

    Davis Alenko
    Collared Assigned Temporary Facilities
    New York City

    “Damn you, standard updates. Damn you to hell,” cursed the man as he furiously typed on his laptop. Several lines of programming script coated the screen in all corners while other programs ran parameter checks on each and every part’s function.

    Davis was sitting down next to a small desk, his own laptop over it with a countless number of cords and wires connecting it with an innumerable number of machines. A few of these were directly plugged into his own Armored Core, which lay flat on the ground of the huge New York garage, its core completely open.

    Somewhere, hiding behind all the machinery, there should be a Collared appointed temporary aide. This mechanic, of course, had completely butchered the only job he was given: to repair and maintain the Jupiter during its short stay in New York, where it was to remain grounded until safe transportation back to Europe was found or, barring that, a new mission came up. His last mission had brought him to the NAA for briefing and deployment, something usually unnecessary, but it hadn’t really bothered him. If he’d known his AC would have been tinkered with in this fashion, however, no amount of money would have brought him here. He’d already made a mental note not to accept any more jobs until the Jupiter could be brought back up to spec when a buzzing alert appeared on his laptop screen over all the other running programs and open windows.

    At first annoyed by more interruptions, it all went away when he noticed the payment he’d get from this job. A whopping 15 million? That… was unbelievable! He read the whole assignment and kind of dreaded the need for a whole team of Irregulars, that really never happened before and would only go to show how high profile this mission should be. However, he frankly couldn’t miss the opportunity to test his Jupiter against the kind of opponents such a mission would bring out. He’d just installed new hotkeys which should improve the response time of the Jupiter’s left and right arm aiming systems, but the past two missions were not enough to test it out.

    Now, if he could just get rid of the hack job the incompetent buffoon here did to his machine…

    “I swear to whatever God you have, you dimwit, that if I have to pass on a 15mil mission because YOU thought it was a good idea to update my property’s shoulder aiming system’s using factory default schematics, your family is going to get a nice Christmas basket with your bloody head on it.”

    The mechanic shouted back some lame retort, but the pilot paid it no mind. For now, all of his being was focusing on restoring previous system definitions to his shoulder weapons and repairing any other bugs the change, or the dimwit, might have caused. He’d, of course, kept several backups with all of his customizations, but bloody hell if he remembered to bring all of them with him on his trip to America. He’d just have to hope he could restore most of the system himself and ad-lib some hotpatches, and hope for the best.

    Mariette Colette
    European Union, Lyon, France
    Private Apartment
    May 10th, 2099

    It’s a beautiful day, the sun, unblocked by a single cloud in the sky, creeps through the open windows of the apartment’s living room. The light bounces back and forth in the white walls, making the room shine harmoniously. The atmosphere is unbroken by any noise other than the occasional chirping of birds flying through the window.

    Cliché as it is, this was exactly why Colette bough this apartment. The very first time she step her feet in it, she could tell how tranquil a place it was. The white tones of the walls were complimented by the light colors of the furniture, creating a calm but positive ambient; perfect for the escapism she sought.

    Colette sat comfortably on a yellow couch, a conventional paper book open on her lap. Right across from her the TV was on, but muted, for she wanted nothing more than the shifting lights on the screen to ease the creeping loneliness a lazy afternoon brought. The TV was switched on the news as a French announcer mouthed the details of yet another disaster. The headlines read “Massacre”, and that was all one needed to know.

    This was her day off, of sorts. She had nothing planned, no job assignment, and no projects to finish. She only had old books to read, and for once she intended on making the most of it. Her life was a nonstop web of information flowing through her, either as an operator, an academic or as an informant. The pace at which she must read things, and the nonstop focus it asked from her were exhausting. It felt wonderful to be able to wind down and get away from it all, even if only for a day. She even went as far as coming back to her apartment in France to do it.

    But, someone in her position can’t ever expect to have but a moment for herself. Just as she had turned the last page of the chapter she was on, her PDA beeped a high pitch scream that broke away the calm trance she’d worked herself into it. Blasted thing. But she had no choice but to answer it, as there were not many options as to who could be calling her.

    “Yes?” she picked up, already her mind switching from French to English.

    “We’ve got a special job we wish you take part in.”

    The voice from the speakers was so formal, so professional and down to business. Unnamed, the man was just a messenger, wasting little time to finish his task.

    “I’m listening.”

    “We are preparing a mission with the intents of teaming up a rather large team of peculiar pilots and operators. We wish you partake in it and perform your usual services in addition to the regular tasks an operator is expected to do. You will receive the same recruitment add as everyone else after this phone call is over, and will be deployed with the same intel. The total net gain to be divided among the expected members is 15 million, and the operation will need you to come to the NYC branch for debriefing and further deployment. Questions?”

    The imposing tone with which the info was given made one thing clear: the mission was very much mandatory. Not that Colette was thinking of turning it down; if the net gain didn’t get her attention, then the peculiar details of the mission certainly picked her interest.

    “None that won’t certainly be answered during the mission brief or the add itself. Will I be facilitated transportation back to the states, or will I need to take care of it myself?”

    “A plane ticket for today at 9 PM has been readied. A security officer will escort you to the airport at your earliest convenience.”

    Everything seemed to be already planned out, including her availability. Colette could bet she was being monitored ever since she arrived in France, or maybe since before that. Sure enough, when Colette stole a glimpse through the window, she saw a black SUV stationed at her door. She was being manipulated, but she could hardly complain. Her job was doing precisely that to others. Well, a part of it, at least.

    “You have an hour tor ready yourself,” the man spoke, tired of waiting for any objections. “You will be able to read up on the mission’s detail during your trip. Any problems can be addressed by the man waiting for you right across your apartment.”

    ‘Oh yes, I’ve seen him already,’ Colette thought to herself, her lips still tightened together.

    “Have a good afternoon, Mariette Colette.”
    And the call was over.

    Well, no time to lose then. One hour barely left her enough time to take a bath and lock up the house; she trusted Collared just fine in what came to protection of people, but protection of assets – irrelevant assets, like her house – was another topic entirely. So, Colette stashed the book in its shelf and hurried onto the shower.

    Regardless of her relaxation plans being ruined, the situation was odd enough for her to remain relatively unbothered by it. Her mind was busy collecting recent events and creating secret plans the organization might be conducting, but it was all speculation. Entertainment. But for now, that was enough.

    New York City, NAA
    May 11th, 2099

    The roaring engine of the supercar echoed loudly through the halls and pillars of the underground parking lot, even in its most modest of gears. The BMW hardly stood out in a complex filled with people who won millions driving complex machines; those individuals tended to go for the expensive, powerful cars – the supercars – so often that this beast seemed like a commodity. Never the less, the streamlined machine ventured forth in search of adequate parking – in all eras a difficult mission, - it’s neon blue lights reflecting perfectly off its grey coating.

    Davis, after finally finding an empty spot close enough to the elevator, parked his vintage BMW I8 (the only thing he loved as much as his Jupiter, let no one tell you any different.) When he finally reached the meeting room, he found he was one of the last ones there. Well, the Jupiter did take a little longer to get ready than he’d like, but most systems seemed to be green. Whatever few hours he had before embarking should prove enough to run the final tests and debug whatever was necessary.

    When the briefing ended, Davis was most likely the one with the fewest questions. Sure, this was odd, and obviously it had left him intrigued. But their job right now wasn’t to question the “why”, but to prepare for the new mission type by accommodating their styles to better fit into this kind of teamplay.

    Colette, on the other hand, had many questions. But her role meant it was not up to her to ask them. No, she was the “Seer;” she was paid to sit back and watch as others asked her questions for her. She was to analyze their behavior, their questions, and even the way they phrased their concerns and understand… everything, about who they were. And not just as pilots, but as Irregulars.
  4. GoldenHouou

    GoldenHouou Up To No Good

    North American Alliance
    New York City, New York
    Collared Corporate Headquarters (NAA East Coast)
    9:15 AM

    A brown-haired woman sat at the far back of the meeting room, her legs crossed and a small notebook resting against her knee. Her hair was neatly tied back in a bun, a few pins decorating her bangs and keeping them from obscuring her vision. There was a small, pleasant smile occupying her face, and her eyes seemed bright and curious as she followed the presentation. She was clad in business attire from head to toe, a lone blue flower pinned on the front of her suit. Every now and then she would let her gaze fall upon it, and after taking in its azure color for a while she’d turn her attention back to the speaker, diligently jotting down the keypoints in order to review them through with her protégé later on. She was slightly nervous though it never showed nor lasted, as just a simple glance at the blue flower was enough to calm her mind.

    Yes, blue calmed her, no matter the time or place. It made her think of the endless sky spreading out above her, and it brought to mind the oceans she had never seen except during missions. Well, that wasn’t entirely true; she had seen pictures. She had seen movies, ones in which dolphins emerged from the depths of their home to greet the ships that passed by, ones in which young people played on the shores, sands in their hair and brow, without a worry in the world. They were beautiful scenes and so, so very unreachable. It’s like they were a dream, like scenery from another world. A world she did not belong in, a world she could never enter.

    That was precisely why, regardless of where she was or what she was doing, she wanted to be accompanied by something in that beautiful color, be it a garment or a charm. Anything was fine, just as long as she could look at it and get lost in her thoughts, her dreams and hopes she’d never even admit she had. It was not her place to dream, after all. Her master had instructed her like so, and she was a woman who took any order given to her seriously.

    Juliana sighed, resting her cheek against her fist, only to quickly snap back to sitting straight and professional. It would not do to bring shame to his master’s name by looking like a slacker. So, as the representative spoke up again, Juliana’s pencil started to move across the surface of the page, repeating every word she heard and believed to carry importance. She was playing with her hair with her free hand, poking at her bun and curling strands between her fingers. She had chosen a more casual hairstyle for the day, which meant that tomorrow, she would go with something wild again. She couldn’t stand looking the exact same two days in a row. Choosing her own appearance was one of the few choices she was free to make after all (to certain extends, of course), and she intended to take full of use of that freedom.

    There was a map being displayed now, and Juliana eyed it through carefully, her pencil’s work never stopping. Especially in a very… fishy assignment such as this, every detail they were given counted, and she wanted to write everything of essence down in order to give Thanatos an impeccable picture of what had happened during the meeting. Yes, she was no pilot herself but an operator and a guardian, both of her jobs revolving around a certain young man waiting for her return.

    The Collared knew of her presence and situation, having allowed her to join multiple pilot-only meetings before. They did, after all, share a common interest with her; they both sought to keep Thanatos’ identity – particularly his age – a secret from the general public. Collared was involved in the program that had produced the aforementioned kid-pilot, after all. Kids being trained as pilot-candidates… it wasn’t difficult to see why they didn’t want the whole deal public. It wasn’t a sign of benevolence they let her in – it was a necessity on their part. Well, Juliana didn’t mind. The reasons were irrelevant as long as the outcome was the same.

    Still, something seemed a little… off about this whole deal. She couldn’t shake the feeling they weren’t told everything about the mission. It turned out she wasn’t the only one silently accusing them of withholding information either, as near the end of the briefing, one of the female pilots spoke up and actually challenged the representative, managing to stun him into silence in the end.

    Juliana held back a chuckle with a few fingers pressed against her lips. Well, well, hadn’t they chosen the wrong guy to do the talking. You’d think that Collared, an organization so used to hiding things, would have found a more convincing liar – pardon, speaker for the occasion.

    The briefing ended and light filled the room once more. Finally given the opportunity to do so, Juliana stretched and let out a small yet audible yawn. At last! She really didn’t like sitting still in darkness; it always made her rather drowsy. That, and it was somewhat difficult to write properly when the lighting was so scarce. Not standing up yet she flipped through the pages of her notebook, making sure her text was legible, only for the voices of a few discontent Irregulars to catch her ears a moment later. She didn’t stray her attention from her work but from the sounds of it at least a few people present were not planning to participate in this mission. And a quick look around the room upon deeming her notes acceptable told her those two weren’t the only ones not up for this; though all weren’t quite as verbal with their disdain, many showed signs of disinterest. Few shook their heads, some whispered among themselves, and some just carried a very telling expression. Juliana shrugged. Well, more money for those willing to rise up to the challenge, she figured.

    Though so many people backing up did make her wonder… would her charge accept the job? This was a group operation, after all, and those always posed a risk of his identity getting exposed. Then again, fifteen million. Who could walk away from that? Definitely not Thanatos; for a kid, he was mighty greedy when it came down to it.

    North American Alliance
    New York City, New York
    Collared Hotel Room
    Around 9:30 - 10:30 AM

    The room was quiet and dimly lit, raindrops dancing against the luxurious room’s darkened windows. Light didn’t pour in from outside and the expensive, beautifully decorated chandelier wasn’t lit for the moment, its gold engravings barely visible from the shadows that danced across its surface. Shadows engulfed every corner, evermoving as the sole candle in the room flickered about. The candle was sitting atop a fine table carved of dark wood, placed in the middle of the room. There were armchairs on both sides, both of them occupied. And, next to the candle, illuminated directly by its flame lay an old chessboard, the pieces already scattered across the board. The game had already begun, the pieces had already been moved and, judging from the pile of soldiers piled in one corner of the table, a few of them had already been removed from the game. Whether it was through a mistake or a sacrifice was a mystery and truly, it hardly mattered. What was gone was gone, the way it passed hardly mattered.

    One of the players was a young man hardly of age, his black hair falling in the way of his vision whenever he leaned closer to examine the board. Though he seemed concentrated in the game, should anyone have taken a closer look they would have noticed them; small signs of anxiety plaguing each and every move the boy made. His legs were pressed against each other, insecure, as if he had wanted to take as little space as possible, and whenever he reached to grab a hold of a chess piece his hand trembled. His eyes weren’t just focused; they were forcibly made to focus on the board, and the board only. He wasn’t playing out of enjoyment, he was playing out of a desperate need to occupy himself with something.

    There was a clock ticking in the background, and every now and then Benjamin would raise his gaze from the game and allow himself a quick peek at it. But only ever a quick one; he didn’t want to get stuck staring at the hands and praying them to move faster so the briefing would be over and his operator would return, bringing with her information of his newest mission. A mission unlike anything he had been offered before.

    Sure, there had been missions during which he had had to work together with other pilots, but they were never of this scale. From the sounds of it there could be a lot of pilots working together this time, and that inevitably meant they had to meet in person at some point. He wasn’t sure if he could send Juliana out to talk for him this time. A mission of this caliber required a certain level of trust, did it not? How could they trust him if he never showed up? How could they trust his mediator wasn’t twisting words and intentions? Fifteen million. Nobody would take the job lightly. Nobody would allow a single pilot become a hindrance. He’d have to show up. Speak for himself and stand tall among people who, for all he knew, could have killed people in the past. Most pilots he saw were like that. Stoic and ready to kill. Scary. They were different from him. He’d never kill.

    The man sitting across him coughed, and Benjamin slowly raised his gaze to meet the man’s. Eyes were the only visible thing of the man sitting on the other side of the table. They were red, accusing, instilling thoughts Benjamin didn’t want into his head. The man was always like that when they played chess. Benjamin hated it. Couldn’t he just make his moves and stop glaring like that?

    “I’d never kill,” Benjamin informed the man defensively, eying him carefully. The man just stared back, but though his lips didn’t move and he didn’t blink an eye, Benjamin knew. The man didn’t believe him.

    “I don’t kill people,” the young pilot repeated, this time a tad more defiant. “I shoot down machines. And… even that I do under someone else’s orders. It’s not my decision.”

    He cast his gaze back down at the chess game, only now realizing his hand had frozen mid-move earlier. There was a knight in his hand, staring up at him with lifeless eyes. Lifeless, just like the machine he piloted, just like the machines he shot down. Yes, the battlefield was like a chess game. The Armored Cores and their pilots, as well as the enemies were the pieces, scattered across the sky and grounds to fight against each other, to knock each other off the game board. And the chessplayer, the one who controlled those pieces was the contractor, the one who paid them, the one who owned them for the duration of the mission. He was the one responsible for everything.

    When a chess piece was taken – when it ’died’ in a game, there wasn’t a single person out there who’d blame the piece that killed it, was there? No, the piece did nothing wrong; it just moved like it was supposed to, towards a predestined goal that was decided for it. It meant no harm when it took another piece. It was just a game. The pieces weren’t alive. There was no harm done. The pieces would leave the board one by one, but come the next game they’d be placed back in position for another round. Battles were like that too, weren’t they? Nobody really died. Machines got broken, but they’d be fixed, and then they’d fight again. They’d get back up and repeat the cycle. The death of a chess piece, of a machine did not matter. It was not the death of a human.

    Benjamin’s opponent cocked its head. The young pilot could feel it. Feel that accusatory gaze burning through his brow.

    “I’m telling the truth”, Benjamin retorted, looking back up at his adversary once more. “It’s completely different. I’ve witnessed a human die once, so I know.”

    It was a long ago, on a night he couldn’t remember the date of. He knew not how old he was back then, nor why he and his father had taken that particular route back home when there was the usual shortcut they often drove through, but he could never forget that night. He was sitting in the back of a limousine on a summer night. He had opened the window because he loved the breeze, and when he had peered outside he had witnessed a crime; a violent robbery in one of the alleys. Someone had been beaten to death. He didn’t see it happen – the victim was curled up on the ground surrounded by thugs that blocked out everything. Everything but the sounds.

    He had heard him scream, heard him curse and spit and groan, he had heard the pain and the agony. He had heard his voice die out. He had heard him die.

    “Machines don’t make that kind of sound,” Benjamin stated, firm. “There’s an explosion, but it’s different. The sound is loud, but it’s momentary. No matter how loud it is and no matter how much it makes your ears ring, it stops eventually. You forget. It’s gone, and it has changed nothing.”

    His hand now firm, Benjamin made his next move. There was a pawn in sight, placed so it had nowhere to run. He captured it, but though the fine, marble piece made a sound as it hit the board, and though it echoed from the empty walls, that sound, too, was fleeting. The game continued, and nothing had changed anywhere in the world. Human screams weren’t like that. They changed things. They changed the whole atmosphere; they changed the very mood of the people who witnessed them. They buried themselves into people’s minds and penetrated their worlds. They were powerful. Machines could never hope to mimic that, because the sounds they let out carried no feelings, no meanings nor memories. They were empty. Hollow.

    “I could never kill a human,” Benjamin repeated again. He wanted that creepy man to believe him. He needed him to believe.

    But the man just sat still across the table from him, silent as he made his move, the intent stare of his eyes never leaving the boy. It was like staring down Benjamin had been more important to the man than the actual chess game.

    And yet, time and time again, the man won.

    Benjamin couldn’t beat him, just like he couldn’t convince him to cease his stare.


    Just then the hotel room door was flung open, and a familiar female voice rung out from the doorway.

    “I’m back! Oh, for the love of… don’t tell me you’re playing chess by yourself again?”

    Benjamin jumped and snapped his stare behind him out of sheer surprise. Did she have to enter so… so suddenly? His heart had skipped a beat, he was sure. Geez.

    “I’m not playing…” Benjamin informed her, turning back to face the chair. But, like countless times before, there was nobody there. The cushions were untouched and the fine satin unwrinkled. Benjamin felt something cold in his stomach. “… By myself.”

    The man was gone. He hadn’t convinced him yet. Everything spun, and Benjamin got a bit panicky. No, no, he needed the creepy man to come back, sit back down so he could make him believe him. He needed to prove himself right. He needed something to-

    The lights were switched on, and Benjamin couldn’t stop himself from yelping and blinking furiously as the light poured into his eyes.

    “Aww, geez, warn me before that!” He whined.

    “At least keep the lights on when you’re playing,” Juliana sighed as she removed her overcoat and kicked her shoes away. “You’re going to ruin your eyesight. And Master’s gonna have my head.”

    “He wouldn’t do that…” Benjamin muttered, still rubbing his eyes as the woman sat across him, her notes in hand. “He’s not that mean!”

    “Right, right, he isn’t,” Juliana laughed, a bit apologetic. She had forgotten how defensive the boy was when it came to his father. “Anyway, I brought notes from the meeting, so you can decide whether-“

    “I’m going.”

    Juliana blinked, barely believing her ears. “What?”

    “I’m going,” Benjamin repeated as he stood up, a little shaky. Seeing his operator sitting in the same place as that creepy man had just seconds ago was so… bizarre. But that was alright. He’d show the guy. Prove he was right in his comparisons. And the best way to do that was… “I’m taking on the job.”

    “But you haven’t even heard what it’s about!” Juliana gasped, eyes wide. This was so not like him. While he was very childish and tended to get excited over things easily, he was being way too rash with the decision. He didn’t seem exactly excited either, more… determined? How rare.

    “That’s okay, I can read up on it later. Could you please call my mechanic for me? I… I need a shower now,” Benjamin informed her trying to keep his voice as firm as possible as he walked away from the main room. He didn’t want her to see how panicked he was. Didn’t want her to hear it. He hoped water would help clear his mind.

    “Alright, alright,” Juliana sighed, dropping her notes on the table. To think that she had basically taken them in vain… Juliana chuckled to herself. It had to be the big money, right? “But at least tell me what made you make up your mind so quickly. Money?”

    Benjamin stopped in his tracks.

    The need to prove that I’m right.

    “Money,” the boy confirmed absentmindedly before disappearing into the shower.
  5. TheSequelReturns

    TheSequelReturns Phantom Thief

    OOC: Sorry this too so long, I was having trouble deciding where to start. :\ I'll be quicker to post now that I've gotten back into the swing of things.


    Collared Underground Arena
    Undisclosed Location
    10:47 PM

    Beatrice sighed as she dropped down from the core of the Aurea Imperatrix. The massive, mostly golden AC was battered like it had been through the front lines of an active warzone instead of a sanctioned arena match. Burn marks, bullets holes, scrapes, raw metal, and more damage covered the huge machine from the top of its head unit to the bottom of its hover platform.

    "I can't stand bastards like that." She said in her usual icy tone. "He knows he's going to lose so he makes sure I have to spend all my winnings on repairs. Typical Collard treatment." Beatrice brushed a lock of her icy blue hair out of her face and continued to frown at the state of her AC, hands on her hips. Her flight suit was a crisp white, and the bright color stood out in the otherwise gloomy hangar. The same could be said of the Aurea itself.

    "My, even when you win you aren't satisfied." Theodore said. He was Beatrice's... butler, for lack of a better term. He was her operator, adviser, assistant, and occasionally conscience. It wasn't an easy job, especially with one such as Beatrice to answer to, but he had grown accustomed to it.

    Beatrice's frown turned into a look of outright indignation. "Satisfied? Look at the Aurea! She looks like she drove headfirst into a grenade factory. Who the hell fires off all of their ordinance at the end of a match?"

    "The Rank 34 Irregular, apparently." Theo said matter-of-factly, "Which, by the way, is now your number."

    "I'm aware of that." Though her tone of voice hadn't changed, the look on her face softened ever so slightly. Theo was particularly good at disarming her when she let her temper get the better of her. Spend enough time with someone, and you learn a bit about how they think. Of course, the same was true in reverse, but for one reason or another, Beatrice didn't like to push Theo's buttons. Perhaps it was because she actualyl trusted him, or maybe she just liked to have someone around who's buttons she didn't push.

    Theo gave a few quick swipes and taps on the datapad he held before giving a small sigh. "Looks like the damage is mostly cosmetic, but he did manage to hit a few wiring clusters and the servo in the left shoulder joint is completely ruined. All in all, after the cost of repairs, we're looking at a mere $27,000 profit, give or take a thousand or so."

    "$27,000? And you havn't even factored in replacing the ammo I used have you?"

    "I'm afraid not." Theo gave a small bow. "It looks like this new rank is actually going to end up costing you out of pocket."

    Beatrice nearly threw her arms into the air, but a bit of last second restraint kept her from doing so. Instead, her hands merely clenched into fits as her glare turned ice cold. "Unbelievable! This is utterly ridiculous. That creep should be paying me for repairs. Its against regulation to disable your targeting computer during an arena match."

    "True, but he didn't disable it. He simply removed his generator's safety cap. That little trick probably burnt out his entire cooling system." Theo's voice was level and calm throughout the entire conversation, a stark contrast to Beatrice's wavering temperament.

    "Well, I hope it did. Then at the very least he'll have a sizable repair bill to look at as well." Beatrice sighed, seemingly content with that thought.

    "Considering you nearly drove your pile driver all the way through his hip assembly and he's not taking home any reward money, I'm sure he will regardless." Theo placed the datapad into the inner pocket of his crisp white jacket. As usual, he was dressed nicely, today in a pressed white suit with a red velvet bow tie. "Now, there's the matter of finding another assignment before you wind up burning all your savings in the arena. May I recommend this one?"

    Beatrice took the smart phone from Theo's hand and read over the message. It was an official Collard assignment. Apparently they were putting together a team to handle some new threat or something. She simply skimmed over the details until she hit the pay. Fifteen million. It was to be split among the other pilots and operators who accepted but unless this team eneded up being ridiculously large, then she should still walk away with a few million at least. That'd make for a nice payday. And since it was a group mission, the risk to her own AC (and to a lesser extent, her life), would be lower than normal. It was essentially a win win.

    "When did this come in?" She asked.

    "While you were in the arena." He read the look she gave him and gave a small laugh. "No, I didn't read it while you were in combat. I saved that for when you were cursing your opponents ancestors."

    "Very funny." Beatrice rolled of her eyes. "When do they expect us to show up?"

    "In a day or two." Theo said. "They'll send you the information once you confirm your acceptance."

    Beatrice gave a yawn. "Then go on and accept it. And arrange to have the Aurea cleaned up and repaired. I need a shower." Without waiting for a response, she was off, headed for the elevator back to the pilot's lounge. She knew Theo would do what she had asked. He always did. The fact that she trusted him alone to handle her most prized possession spoke about the level of trust they shared.

    Theo in turn simply gave a small bow. "Of course." In turn, he knew how cold she could be. But he also recognized that trust. He knew that, in her own way, giving responsibility of the Aurea to him was a way of showing her trust in him. And he had known her long enough to know that he was the only one she trusted to that degree. Not even her family could command that much respect from her. Perhaps, certainly not her family. But, one way or another, she needed him. And in a way, he needed her as well.


    North American Alliance
    New York City, New York
    Collared Corporate Headquarters (NAA East Coast)
    8:45 AM

    The helicopter made its slow descent towards the rooftop of the Collard building, edging its way over the rooftops of the other tall buildings of New York. Kotomi had been to New York before. The skyscrapers and cars and bright city lights did little to impress her. A decade of waking up to the Tokyo skyline would do that to you, she supposed. But even still, each city seemed to have its own style, its own rhythm, is own signature. New York was alive in a way that Tokyo wasn't. Tokyo was like a symphony, a chorus of perfectly harmonized sounds subtly mingling with one another. But New York? New York was as a rock band, each individual piece striking its own chords, resonating in its own way, trying to make its mark above all the others. It was chaotic, and noisy, and even a bit dirty, but it was unique. And Kotomi liked things that were unique.

    "Now, you understand where you're supposed to go for the meeting right?" her Collard-appointed escort asked her. Either she hadn't read Kotomi's file, or it was simply impossible for her to break her usual routine, because she had mentioned the location at least three times before. Considering the first question she had asked Kotomi when they had meet back in Tokyo some hours ago was "can you speak English", it was probably the former.

    Despite the slight irritation going through her mind, Kotomi's outward appearance showed all the emotion of a store-front mannequin. It was her usual appearance, and the escort had found it quite unnerving. That thought had pleased Kotomi a little more with each passing question, though as always her thoughts were her own.

    "Yes." was her reply.

    Her escort frowned. She still hadn't gotten used to Kotomi's mechanical speech. Not many ever did.

    "Okay then." She handed Kotomi a small packet of papers, all held together with an ordinary paperclip. Why Collard still liked its hard copy info packets Kotomi couldn't understand. The way Arisawa ran things was so much simpler. Not to mention better for the environment. "That's everything you'll need to register for your change in residence. The transfer was last minute, but you may be staying here for a while."

    "Acknowledged." Kotomi took the papers and gently folded them in half. And then in half again. And again, despite the slight cringing of her escort. Finally left with a thin strip of paper several sheets thick, Kotomi slid it into her pocket. She was dressed simply, just a black and white stripped shirt and a dark-gray pants. She never understood why a simple meeting called for formal attire, and the people she worked with had learned not to call her out on her appearance. She could quote regulation from memory. Formal attire wasn't a Collared regulation, it was a social one. And Kotomi did not abide by anyone else's social choices. They had nothing to do with her.

    The helicopter touched down on the rooftop of the Collared building, its blades still whirring rapidly. The pilot would have to lift off again after Kotomi disembarked.

    "Is that everything?" Kotimi asked her escort. It was the first question she had asked of her during the entire trip.

    It took a moment for the Collard representative to actualyl realize it was a question. "Yes, I believe so."

    Kotomi nodded once, a short and quick bob of the head, her long raven hair bouncing just a bit. "Thank you."

    Her escort just sat there, a bit stunned, as Kotomi exited the craft and made her way across the rooftop. The meeting would begin shortly, and she wouldn't be late.


    May 11th, 2099
    North American Alliance
    New York City, New York
    Collared Corporate Headquarters (NAA East Coast)
    9:15 AM

    Beatrice sighed. These meetings were always the same. A lengthy spiel about organizations she didn't know fighting over things she didn't care about. Why Collard wasn't content to simply give them the information the same way they received the mission invitation itself was beyond her. Already, she could hear Theo's voice. "Probably because they know you wouldn't read that one all the way either." he'd say, or something like that at least. And sure enough, she could see him smiling out of the corner of her eye.

    Sometimes, she thought that the only reason she put up with him was because of how useful he was. But, through it all, he was at the very least good company. She'd probably have gone crazy dealing with all this herself if it wasn't for him. She'd thank him, but she knew he knew, and that was good enough for her.

    And now some hot shot pilot was interrogating the Collard agent about the mission details. And to her surprise, the redhead actually managed to turn the tables on the stiff. She decided she liked this... "Scarlet" person. She frowned a bit more. She hated how Collard liked to keep up the code names even in official briefings. They probably thought it sounded cool or was a useful security measure or something, but Beatrice always found it impersonal, as if they wanted to avoid making an actual connection with the pilots. Which, knowing Collared, was probably the real reason for it.

    None of the other pilots really stood out to her. The mission briefing was quickly derailing in the background, but Beatrice was bored of it already. She'd just ask Theo for the important bits later. Instead, she was watching the other pilots. none of them seemed to stand out that much. They looked like the standard fare you'd see around here, for the most part. Even Scarlet, for all her tact, didn't seem to be that different from the others. They all stared on, listening to the briefing like good little soldiers. Or at the very least pretending to. Her eyes scanned the crowd until they hit two dark pools.

    Beatrice blinked. The woman across the table, the Asian one, was staring right at her. Unflinchingly. It was... a bit unnerving. Beatrice raised an eyebrow, and was met with a slight tilt of the head. But nothing more. The other woman had yet to so much as blink. Slightly concerned, Beatrice turned her attention to the front, trying to ignore the other woman's gaze despite the fact that she could still feel it.

    And just like that, the meeting ended.

    "Well, that was certainly interesting." Beatrice gave a yawn as she stood up from her chair. She'd want to have a few words with that Scarlet woman, but now probably wasn't the time. Before the mission perhaps. She exited the briefing room, choosing to simply lean against the hallway wall.

    "What do you think?" Theo asked.

    "Of course I'm in. I wouldn't be here otherwise." She gave a small nod, as if that settled it.

    Theo simply smiled. "Of course."

    Two of the pilots had since left, but most of them had stuck behind. It would be interesting to see just how big a cut they'd get for all this trouble.
  6. Kamotz

    Kamotz God of Monsters

    Serra rolled to a stop in front of Collared's headquarters and eased it through the guard gate. They slid into a nearby parking spot and braved the now-torrential downpour to enter the main structure.

    "I hate the rain," Serra muttered, shaking the water off her clothes as they stepped through the sliding glass doors.


    "-Love it," Serra interrupted. "Of course you do. You would love something cold and wet." She kept her voice deadpan. "It's because you don't have a soul."

    "A soul never helped anyone," Lance said with a shrug. "Certainly never did anything for me, and I think I turned out just fine."

    "You're a sociopath that gets paid for mass murder," Serra pointed out.

    "What better job for a sociopath?" Lance said with a smirk. He nodded to the receptionist and strode with Serra into the elevator. "And you're my cunning accomplice."

    "Lucky me," Serra sighed. She pressed the button for the top floor of the skyscraper and leaned back against the elevator wall.

    "Could've left you with Costa," Lance said, leaning in suit.

    "You sure know how to charm a girl," said Serra. She watched the numbered elevator lights blink as they rapidly ascended. "Threaten to leave her with killers, drug dealers, and rapists."

    "Weren't you just accusing me of being a killer?" Lance asked.

    "It was more a statement of fact than an accusation," Serra said offhandedly. "Besides, as killers go you're the best to be around. What is it you always say?"

    "I have standards," Lance answered.

    "Though you haven't ever explained what those standards are," Serra said. The elevator chimed and the doors slid open.

    "I'll let you know when I do," Lance said, with just a hint of sadness.

    "Well I sure know how to pick 'em," Serra muttered, following Lance out of the elevator and towards the main conference room. "Sociopathic playboys."

    "Greetings, Stranger, Angel," said the Collared representative as they entered the room. She was a well-dressed woman, in a grey skirt and jacket, her black hair tied back in a neat bun, thin glasses perched on her nose, nails manicured, and makeup perfect.

    "I hate that name," Lance muttered, not bothering to hide the distaste for call-sign he'd been saddled with since joining Collared. Why they couldn't just call him "Lance" was beyond him.

    Serra elbowed him in the ribs, shutting him up as the Collared agent began their briefing.

    "The client is the Leonidas Group," she said, as the large-screen television displayed the corporation's logo: white letters on red background with a stylized, stenciled image of a sun. "Pirates have been intercepting cargo vessels along shipping routes between the Middle East and South Africa. Leonidas is requesting that you both protect their vessels and annihilate the pirates' small fleet of hijacked warships."

    "Transportation?" Serra asked. "How are we getting there?"

    The woman shot her a strange look, as if she'd just suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Lance had been the center of her attention; he was the Irregular, after all. But Serra held her gaze and cowed her into submission.

    "Uh, yes," the woman shuffled through several papers. "Collared will be providing you standard transportation and operations equipment." The screen behind her changed to show a map of the region; the shipping route between Europe and South Africa--up along the Eastern coast, around the Horn of Africa, through the Gulf of Aden, the Red Sea, the Suez Canal, and Mediterranean.

    "They likely operate out of Somalia," Lance muttered, analyzing the trade routes. Somalia was still a breeding ground for pirate activity; further turmoil in the region certainly hadn't helped in that regard.

    "Our intelligence concurs," the woman said, nodding. "You'll rendezvous with the cargo fleet in the before they round the Horn of Africa." The map zoomed in to mark the location. "From there, operations and logistics are up to you."

    Lance nodded; he was familiar with this sort of strategy. His experience with Operation Uppercut during his military service was rather similar: he'd used enemy warships as staging platforms for further attacks. Though to his knowledge, information about his military record was highly classified; not even the higher-ups in Collared should have that information.

    "Is that all?" Serra asked, again feeling left out. She also didn't really appreciate how the woman was eyeing Lance like a piece of meat. "We should be going then." She took the mission packet from the woman and left with Lance. "So what's the plan?"

    "They've got a carrier-ship," Lance said, remembering the information that had flown by on the screen. "We'll land and you can run ops from there."

    "Sounds like Uppercut, doesn't it?" Serra asked, and Lance nodded. Over their developing relationship, he'd revealed pieces of his past to her. Nothing so specific and critical, but enough so that she knew something about what he used to do and be. And she could read his blank-countenanced concern as easily as he could read hers. "You think there's a leak." It wasn't a question.

    "Not sure. Not likely, anyway." Lance pressed the button for the ground floor and leaned back against the elevator wall. "The Mossad was always too good at keeping secrets."

    "Coincidence, then?"

    "No such thing," said Lance. "I'll look into it when we're done. Let's get to the hangar and prep the White Glint."


    North American Alliance
    New York City, New York
    Powell Military Airport
    10:30 PM

    Claire boarded the Super-Harrier jet and walked past the row of Armored Cores that had been assembled for the mission. The VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) jet was a cramped fit with so many ACs, support equipment, and parts, but there was ample room for the Irregulars and Operators to sit while they traveled towards their destination, the USS Tungsten supercarrier stationed somewhere in the Mediterranean.

    She glanced around at the operatives for the mission; they were an eclectic-looking bunch that was for sure. Most were at least a few years older than her; in fact aside from a very young kid, a young Japanese woman, a blond man in a well-pressed suit, and a well-dressed blue-haired young woman, they all seemed to be over thirty. It made what she was about to tell them all the more difficult.

    "My name is Claire Leblanc," she said, standing up to get their attention. "I'm not sure if any of you got the same message I did, but Collared wants me to take lead on this mission. So I'm gonna need to know who you guys are and what you can do; what you can bring to the table." She pointed to her Armored Core. "My machine is the Valkyria Redtail. The frame is optimized for aerial combat; weapons configuration is generally most effective at medium-range; and it's fast." She glanced around the cramped hanger, where seven other ACs were aligned next to hers.

    "It's looking like we've got a relatively good assortment of combat types," she said, glancing through the cramped cargo space to their Armored Cores arranged in close-sitting rows. "But long-range bombardment is looking out of the question. So...what can you guys do?"
  7. storymasterb

    storymasterb Knight of RPGs

    North American Alliance
    New York City, New York
    Powell Military Airport
    10:30 PM

    Cynthia sat back in her seat, taking in the pilots around her. Her face was all professionalism and stoicism, but behind her eyes her mind was at work. She discreetly noted each of them in turn, reading them from faces and manner. Noting the kid, the shock of seeing someone so young here almost cracked through her mask, but she maintained the facade, keeping back the surprise in a practiced manner. She had to wonder just what someone so young was even doing here. Was he a pilot? Surely that wasn't possible, but then again, she wouldn't put much, if anything at all, past the corporations. The others seemed more-or-less what she would have expected, the usual bunch of varied people.

    Her gaze fixed on one of the others, a blond-haired man who was doing much the same as her, looking around at the others with a clinical eye. Their gazes met, each cautiously eying up the other, reading into faces. Cynthia maintained her blank, professional face, reading his own. He looked unremarkable, and yet his eyes told a different story, they were hawk-like, precise and vicious. Despite his casual dress and manner, he had the chill eyes of a man accustomed to shooting at targets. And yet, as she looked at him, there was something more, something behind those eyes. But before she could look deeper with keener insight, he looked away. Feeling somewhat cheated, she turned her gaze to the stored Armored Cores, taking in what she could from regarding them.

    Her gaze turned back sharply as a woman stood up, immediately taking another note of her features. She was attractive, younger than most of the pilots, making her wonder just what this woman was about to do.

    Cynthia considered for a short while, then answered. "I'm Cynthia Young. My Winter Eagle is a close-quarters machine," she replied. "I have missile weaponry, but that's primarily for eliminating difficult targets and drawing my enemies into range. Aside from that, the Eagle's got twin laser blades. I can handle myself at range, but my place is right next to the enemy, tearing them a new one."

    Ezekiel spoke next, having considered his own response. "My name's Ezekiel. Ezekiel Arkwright." He paused. "Well, on my end, the Silent Reaper's a sniper. I work best when I can't be seen, so ideally I'd find some position with decent visibility and a fair amount of cover to deal with things from. The Reaper's also got a laser rifle and cluster missiles for dealing with things which get too close, but that's more a contingency than anything else. I don't perform well in close-quarters at all, so keeping my distance is how I do things best."
    Last edited: Aug 31, 2012
  8. niedude

    niedude Don't forget to grin

    North American Alliance
    New York City, New York
    Powell Military Airport
    10:30 PM

    Davis sat uncomfortably next to people whose faces he didn’t even care for; it had been way too long since he stopped memorising the faces of the pilots he was grouped with. After all, a few hours from now and he’d never even see them again. He didn’t even notice the kid; he just focused his eyes on his tablet, completely glued to it, working hard to make sure there were no remaining bugs or below-advisable specs left from the butcher job his machine was put through.

    Colette, on the other hand, could not not notice the minor. Really, now? None of the info she was supplied with ever listed someone this young in Collared’s ranks, ever. This brought up a whole new world of unethical practices to mind; she could deal with murder and corruption, after all, those were the fastest tools to achieve a good hold over the present torn world. But Child Soldiers? Those were among the very things she joined Collared to stop. This isn’t justifiable, not at all. No matter how good this child could be, no matter the prodigy he was, this... Thanatos should not be thrown into a world of death – into a living hell the likes of which most humans never experience – for the benefit of self-righteous warlords. Collared isn’t with any particular shortage of Pilots, either. This is just a straight up lack of morals, something she could not tolerate.

    ... And they knew she wouldn’t.

    Just as she felt she could no longer control the urge to stand up, blow her cover and approach the child, she understood something. She caught the silk thread of the underlying spiderweb they were thrown into, and knew all too well why she had been chosen to join this effort. It was a plan worthy of her own intellect, even.

    She was an informant, after all. She relayed sensitive information she gathered on the field and made psychological assessments on the pilots based on it The pilot’s loyalty and sanity was thus kept controlled by her devices. But what about her? Her loyalty and her sanity were surely just as important, yet there was no one capable of ever conducting a psychological analysis without Colette realising it. But, as always, they had found a way...

    Indeed, no one else could conduct a psic report on her. But there was no need for one. Just throw her at the wolves, and judge her reaction. She joined Collared after extensive studies of war desensitized her and made her blood cold; after she turned from a worried philanthropist more involved in academics than any political power to someone who was no longer content with having no pull on the world. She knew Collared’s atrocities were justified by a greater end. Just how much her own morals could be crossed without compromising her status as an inside agent was a wonder, though. A mystery only her own actions could reveal.

    Meddling at this point could be dangerous, but she could not accept this either way. She had to know more regardless.

    So, she stood up and casually made her way to the infant, stopping to admire and judge the pilots she passed by on the way. She’d prolong the journey and make sure Thanatos did not know he was her “target.”

    She knew she had to be careful when she approached him. A kid subjected to a life of murder like him was an unpredictable time bomb, and could easily misinterpret her interest in him as doubts about his skill and cause him to endanger himself in an effort to prove his worth. Even though she was familiar with a number of Child Soldier cases, she had to admit she did not have the necessary background to approach this kid professionally without risking setting off something she’d rather remain dormant. She also didn’t want to seem like she was doubting him or undermining him... Trying to pry into his motivations could be the safest route, but definitely not the best conversation starter.

    Pedo-psychiatry is hard.

    Before she had a chance to make her move, however, the red-headed woman she had been sitting next to stood up and spoke to the group.

    ‘She’s the leader? She looks young enough to be my daughter. Then again, so does everyone...’
    Davis sighed and pocketed his tablet. He felt a little too old for this, but the fact that there were still some in his age group provided some comfort.

    “My name is Davis Alenko, and I pilot the Jupiter: a heavy class AC specializing in long range bombardment. That’s naturally where I’m best at, but I can hold my own at medium range, and I won’t go down easily at close range, either. My mech’s got more armour plating than I bet you’ve ever seen before. It’s slow, but it won’t go down with anything short of a tactical nuke- or, realistically speaking, quite a good dose of powerful bombs or several magazines worth of armour piercing rounds. But I’d prefer not to let any light speedsters close, as they’re the only ones I have trouble hitting, and they have a nasty habit of finding gaps in my extra plating where an energy sword can crawl into nicely.”

    He was slightly embarrassed while admitting his AC’s biggest weakness, and he half regretted it as soon as he did; these people might be allies now, but next week they could easily turn out to be his enemies. But it didn’t bother him that much. Davis had great pride in his AC, after all. He knew just how powerful and how hard to bring down it was.

    “Hey, we all have weaknesses,” he said as he leaned back on the uncomfortable seat. “Long story short, I prefer long range, but I can easily delve into medium range if I find it beneficial.”

    “My name is Mariette Colette,” the French woman followed. “I’m an operator with background knowledge on war tactics and deployment, and I work best when partnered with a pilot with a wide range of influence. Long range bombardment, snipers or speedsters capable of moving from one reach of the battlefield to the other in no time are my best pawns,” she finished as she fixed her hair behind her ear.

    Casually, she turned to Thanatos, eyes almost glowing with the kind of motherly kindness the child most certainly missed, and her voice warm and embracing.

    “What about you? I’ve heard a great deal of things about Thanatos, I’m sure you can proudly handle yourself on the battlefield like no other.”
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2012
  9. GoldenHouou

    GoldenHouou Up To No Good

    OOC: Finally got the time to finish this! Sorry if the quality is inconsistent; I’ve been writing this in parts for, like, a week while sick >>


    North American Alliance
    New York City, New York
    Powell Military Airport
    10:30 PM

    Benjamin was very much regretting his decision to show up unmasked right now.

    The whole morning Juliana had tried to convince him to wear the hood and mask he usually did when he took part in an operation that involved meeting other pilots face-to-face, and throughout the morning he had refused. Now, sitting in a cramped space with more than ten people and Armored Cores, Benjamin couldn’t fathom why. It would have been so much easier to carry this mission out like the rest of them; shrouded in mystery and never showing his face. He could have just sat still with his arms crossed and allowed Juliana to talk for him like she usually did. He would have kept that intimidating, mysterious aura of his, he could have been safe under the mask of anonymity. Now? He could feel the glances. He could hear the questions that went through the others’ minds. ‘Is he truly a pilot?’ ‘What’s a kid doing here, we’re headed for a warzone’, ‘Isn’t he a bit too young for this?’

    He couldn’t blame anyone for thinking like that, though. Hell, even he would have thought of himself as a pathetic excuse for a pilot had he been in their shoes. And they were right, in a sense. Compared to all these professional-looking, scary people, he really did seem spineless and out of his league. He felt like he could faint any minute now. Had anyone, for any reason, touched him right now he would have toppled over. That’s how nervous he was. He was sitting with his back slightly hunched, his arms locked between his thighs and his gaze cast low. Every attempt to look anyone in the eye ended with him letting out a pathetic whimper and instantly looking back down.

    He tried not to glance at Juliana from the corner of his eye every time he was given the chance. She was sitting some distance from him, reading a book behind which she shot worried glances at him every now and then. Benjamin tried to make her stop by shaking his head every time she did it. She didn’t stop.

    Just then one of the people present spoke up and Benjamin straightened with inhumane speeds, almost hitting the back of his head against the crate he was leaning against.


    The woman introduced herself as Claire Leblanc and informed the bunch she’d be the leader for this mission. Benjamin couldn’t help but blink at that. Really? Even though she was so young? That was sort of amazing. If a young person such as her lead the group, maybe he wouldn’t look so out of place either? He was smiling now, a bit relieved, only for any and all sense of awe and relief to get washed away the second the woman presented them with a question. It was a simple question really; she just inquired what they could do, what were their strengths. But to Benjamin, it was a reason to panic. Slowly, a cold feeling filled his stomach and numbed his brain. Fear probably shone from his eyes.

    A question meant he’d have to answer. He’d have to talk in front of all these people.

    One person had already answered, and another one was currently talking. That meant two less before it’d be his turn. Less time for him to get his thoughts straight. He found himself counting the people in the room, to see how many there was to go before it’d be his turn. He’d go last, wait until the last moment when he had to say something and – no, no wait. The people who received the most attention in situations like these were the one who went first and the one who went last, right? The first one to speak up set the bar for the others, and people always remembered the words of the last speaker the best, because they’d be fresh in their mind when everything was done. So he’d have to go somewhere in the middle then.


    Benjamin forced his eyes shut, his hands curling into fists. No, no, he didn’t come here as himself just to chicken out now. He wouldn’t wait for the perfect opportunity, he’d stand up right now and say what he had to say. Young and pathetic as he was, he was just as capable a soldier as the others.

    So he drew in a breath, pressing his palms against the surface of the crate he was sitting atop, ready to push himself to stand because he knew he couldn’t do it without some help from his hands. The sniper guy currently talking finished, and Benjamin felt his heart stop. This was it.


    Benjamin instantly swallowed both his newly gathered determination and whatever words he had been about to let out, slumping back down on his seat. God no, he almost interrupted someone else. That would have been the worst.

    Once more a nervous wreck, Benjamin just kept staring at his shoes as the man spoke. He sounded somewhat more… how should he put it… relaxed than your average pilot? It was strange. He even announced his weakness for everyone to hear. How could he be so reckless?

    The boy sighed, deciding it was none of his business and settled to just waiting patiently again. Next. He’d go next. He’d finally let these people know who he was. That he was Thanatos, Obsidian’s pilot. Him, and not any badass guy in his late forties. But it’d be alright, right? Nobody would believe anyone here even if they did blow his cover later, after all. It’d be just this once. Only the people here would know.

    Benjamin hadn’t even noticed the woman constantly inching closer to him, but Juliana was different. Book still raised to her eyelevel, she had been following her steps for a while now. She did seem to pay equal amount of attention to all the pilots she passed however, so Juliana wasn’t exactly worried. She just had to make sure nothing unexpected happened. Thanatos was her charge after all, and she’d get slaughtered should something happen to him. As the woman spoke up and introduced herself, Juliana relaxed a little and went back to her book. She was listening, but she really wanted to know who the secret lover of the main character was…

    Benjamin on the other hand flinched a bit when he realized the woman who spoke was standing pretty close to him. Timidly, he turned to look at her, only to realize that she… was looking straight back at him. She had on the most pleasant of smiles, radiating warmth and kindness. It… felt strange. He felt his face burn. Why was she looking at him like that? Had, had he done something wrong?

    Benjamin’s eyes widened from shock, and he could swear he felt his heart beat in his throat.

    She knew. She knew his name.

    But how?

    Benjamin cast a panicked glance at Juliana, only to realize Colette was blocking his line of vision. He couldn’t see Juliana. He was alone. Alone in a situation he couldn’t comprehend.

    “I-“, Benjamin began again, looking around frantically as if searching for something to hide behind. He had already figured out what to say in his head come his turn, but the appearance of someone who called him by name had effectively emptied his brain from all coherent thoughts. He had no idea what to do. If she knew, did the others? No, Collared would never, ever blow his cover. Juliana had said so. Obsidian was in the hangar… could it be she knew everyone else present and figured he was Thanatos through a process of elimination? Either that, or she had noticed Juliana’s constant glances towards him and figured out his identity that way; Juliana rarely acted as an operator for anyone else but him after all. It made sense. It had to be either of the two. She couldn’t read minds or get any extra information from Collared, right? She wasn’t dangerous, right?


    “I’m…” Benjamin breathed, now a bit calmer than few moments prior. His thoughts were still a mess however, and he had no idea what to do or say, or how to answer both politely and convincingly enough. The woman’s gaze was warm, encouraging, and it made him even more at a loss. He was pretty sure his face was red. Women hardly talked to him, pretty women with such kind eyes even less often. Everyone else was probably waiting for him to get his mouth open. God he must’ve looked so-

    “He sure can,” Juliana’s voice rung from somewhere where Benjamin couldn’t see. She had stood up, one hand on her hip, one holding the book she had been reading, now closed. She was eying this peculiar woman with care. How did she know? She was no average operator. Something was off. Juliana was fairly certain none of the people here had been briefed of each other beforehand – hence this whole introduction process – and the only ones who were supposed to know were high ranking Collared officials. So how, then, did a lowly operator… Did she really just deduce the whole thing? Did she make an educated guess? Either way, she’d keep an eye on this one.

    “As mentioned, yes, this here is Thanatos, Obsidian’s pilot,” Juliana continued, facing the others. Benjamin relaxed and quickly tore his gaze away from the woman back to his feet. Juliana was doing all the work for him again. It felt… safe. Relieving. He wouldn’t have to worry about anything. Everything would be taken care of for him.


    An image of the red-eyed man he had been playing chess against flashed into is mind. The man was smirking condescendingly. He didn’t believe in him.


    Benjamin stood up, almost stumbling over his own feet before he managed to straighten his back. Juliana blinked in surprise and Benjamin just gave her a nod indicating that he'd do this himself. It was about time he would.

    “Thank you, Celeste. I will take it from here,” he spoke, not taking his sights off of the outermost wall. He was shaking, and so was his voice despite all the effort to make it sound steady and determined. But hey, at least he wasn’t… wasn’t hunching or crying or anything. He’d show that red-eyed… freak.

    “I-I am indeed Obsidian’s pilot. You can call me Thanatos. I… Obsidian, it…” He drew in a breath. Relax. Look at the wall. Talk to the wall. The walk won’t look back at you. “It’s specialized in close-quarter combat, but it can hold its own mid-range as well. It is not, currently, too effective from long range, but I don’t believe that… that it poses a problem. I will never allow there to be much distance between me and my enemy anyway. My forte is speed and… and unpredictability. I will destroy whatever enemy I face without fail.”

    … is something my father would have wanted me to say, I think. And now I did. I talked to all these people and… a-and… God…

    Realizing what exactly he had been doing Benjamin was starting to feel dizzy, the rush of determination starting to fade.

    “I… I, I look forward to working with… w-with you… allyes…” Benjamin’s voice grew quieter and quieter until it finally died down. He did a quick, deep bow and went back to his sitting position, trying desperately not to rock back and forth. He didn’t sound too conceited, did he? It was so difficult to separate condescending and proud. Was there even a difference? He didn’t know, he just wanted to get this all done and over with. He wanted back inside Obsidian, the only place where he felt in power. Where he felt like he could do things… change the world if he wanted to. Be in control. It was the only place where he had ever experienced true pride.

    The woman who had smiled at him earlier was still there, and Benjamin very much wanted to raise his gaze back up to her. Her smile had been comforting.

    And he really, really needed comfort right now.
  10. Kamotz

    Kamotz God of Monsters

    Claire listened and calculated as the seven other pilots introduced themselves and explained what their Armored Cores could do. She mentally kicked herself after realizing she'd stuck her foot in her mouth and jumped to conclusions about the capabilities of the other machines. Still, in terms of heavy craft and pure-bombardment types, they were lacking. To Claire, a heavy, bombardment craft was one that could stay a few miles back and unload a mass of missiles, rockets, and grenades with accuracy and a high fire rate.

    Only Davis Alenko's Jupiter seemed suited for sweeping now that she had a more thorough read on everyone's capabilities. It was monstrously heavy, she noticed--and could tell by the way it had been loaded into the middle of the transport so as not to off-balance the aircraft during flight. As reassuring as it was to have a heavy craft, those sorts of weapons didn't have great precision.

    Which was why she was glad to have Kotomi and Ezekiel as well--two dedicated, precision long-range fighters were definitely a plus. Claire had noted the similarities between the Zashiki-warashi and her own craft and felt compelled to assign it to frontline assault, but the long-range laser rifle on its shoulder and its missile defense system made it ideal for a support role.

    As Beatrice spoke up, Claire couldn't help but think what a brat she was. The ice-haired young woman had made a point of looking directly at her when mentioning her long-range armaments.

    Well excuse her for not knowing the ins and outs of every new machine in the pool.

    She'd never seen a hover-type craft used in firing heavy ordinance; the recoil and kickback from those types of weapons would send any hovering craft shooting backwards. A continuous bombardment-type of combat would drain the AC's energy very quickly. Most preferred to use the optimized mobility of the hover-type to perform quick hit-and-run maneuvers from three-dimensions.

    Cynthia's craft was smaller, lighter, more like hers--but adapted almost exclusively for melee combat roles. Her missile arrays kept the craft in the game at medium ranges, but her lighter frame was not the most stable firing platform. Especially for those larger vertical-fire column missile-arrays. They were clunky and unwieldy, especially for a lightweight craft that wanted to minimize wind resistance and optimize speed. They created a lot of drag.

    Claire had an unusual insight into the workings of the different cores. Before settling on the Valkyria in its current form, she'd experimented with a wide array of models and frame types. She'd tried just about anything and everything--hover platforms, tank treads, heavyweight reverse-joint legs; heavy armor, medium armor; and various combinations of parts and inner workings.

    And this was only after leaving EU military service. Before that she'd use whatever the mission called for.

    Her adaptability was what set her apart from her contemporaries. She could enter a brand new cockpit and--within an hour--figure out its workings and minutia. Down to the smallest detail.

    But far be it from her to question her teammates' part choices.

    And now that Claire finally had an idea of the team's capabilities she could begin figuring out a strategy for the assault on Blue Africa's Libya compound. She could have turned to the pilots' individual dossiers for their crafts' specifications, but she trusted the words of the pilots more than the words on a piece of paper. Pilots always had a more hands-on account of their capabilities, and with the written accounts to temper feelings of arrogance or insecurity, she'd be able to get a much clearer read on what they could accomplish.

    At least, that was what her orders were. Her command and tactical oversight of the mission was a sham; they were all being used as pawns. Even if they wanted Claire familiar with the team's capabilities, Collared strategists and tacticians had already devised a battle plan to be followed once contact was made. In all honesty though, Claire recognized the strategy as a rather clever and effective one that made good use of the various Armored Cores and their equipment. Being moved around like a piece on a giant chessboard made her sick to her stomach, but she knew the team would function better if they believed she was actually in charge.

    She was only placed in the lead position because her official Collared ranking was the highest among the seven Irregulars they had selected. And her ranking was only that high because of her earlier habit of accepting whatever missions were available, no matter how boring or tedious. Her high success rate in more missions had given her a higher ranking than most of her contemporaries who joined Collared at the same time.

    Claire rubbed the bridge of her nose as the Super-Harrier took off; she was getting a headache, and that wouldn't help later on. They still had a few hours before meeting up with the Tungsten, and she needed a clear head if she was going to lead this rag-tag group through intact. She popped open a small bottle of ibuprofen and palmed a few pills, but realized she didn't have anything to drink it with.

    "Fridge's over there," said the Super-Harrier's co-pilot, pointing to the passenger area. A stout, plain gunmetal box stood in the corner. Claire grabbed a bottle of water and quickly downed the pills. She spotted a case of beer and a few bottles of liquor in the box as well.

    "Save that for later," she said to herself. It'd make a nice celebratory toast when everything was done. She took another swig of water and turned to Juliana and Theo. "So the two of you have worked with them before, right?" she motioned to Benjamin and Beatrice, then she looked to Mariette. "Have you ever worked with anyone here? Can you three manage operating for one or two more of us?"
  11. GoldenHouou

    GoldenHouou Up To No Good

    North American Alliance
    New York City, New York
    Powell Military Airport
    10:30 PM

    While Benjamin was recovering from his little speech, Juliana let out a sigh. Just when she had thought he had looked a bit more of an adult. Well, at least she’d be able to go back to her book for now. So, opening her book precisely from the page she had left it with one try, she attempted to immerse herself back in the fantasy world. She was still paying attention to everything else going on, however; she would not be seen as an unprofessional operator who did not listen or gather information every waking second. She was just fully capable of multitasking. Didn’t they say that was a talent every woman possessed anyway?

    She was peeled from her book by the mention of a fridge. She casually glanced over when Claire went to fetch water, but quickly turned back. The fridge's insides hardly interested the young woman, well, apart from the bottles of liquor. Were they allowed to drink? Because she’d very much like it if they were – after the mission, of course.

    Just then she found Claire addressing her and put her readings away once more.

    Juliana let show a smile and nodded.

    “I have. In fact, I have only worked with him for the past few years,” she explained, nodding to Benjamin and hoping to God he’d stop moping. Him being like that affected the both of their reputation, and she knew full well even he didn’t want that. Nobody would be able to pat his head here. He’d have to survive on his own. He had done it before, so she knew he got it in him. The best she could do for him right now would be to let him have a moment for himself to gather his thoughts.

    “That isn’t to say I have never worked with others, or that I would be unable to do so.” She continued after a bit, still looking straight at Claire before averting her eyes in favor of looking every pilot through. “Especially when everyone’s this... promising. I’d say I could handle operating for at least one more. I’m willing try it out.”

    She took a look around again and winked, continuing light-heartedly: “So, who dares to be my guinea pig?”

    Sitting on top of his crate, Benjamin was still unmoving, silent, and desperately trying to bring his heartbeat to regular levels. He felt like he had just braved a storm and come out of it alive, somehow. Three people had went after him as far as introductions went, and just like he had tried to tell himself, nobody had chewed him out on his awkwardness. He knew that. Well, he should have known that, at least; these were professionals, none of them would be childish enough to judge anyone by the way they talked or acted. They knew full well the same thing he did; all that mattered was how good you were inside your Armored Core. Everything else was irrelevant; your race, your gender, your looks... your… age.

    So then, why was it such a big deal for children to pilot anyway? Apart from the obvious lack of both experience and skill (usually, at least), what really separated them from the adults? Was there something he didn't know? Something he didn't understand? He was happy being a pilot! He... he had to be. He couldn't have done war if he hadn't.

    Having been swallowed by his thoughts, Benjamin had actually straightened up in his spot a bit. Not because of any sudden burst of self-confidence, but because his mind was so occupied with something else that it didn’t leave room for much else. He was always like that. Some said it was simple-mindedness, stemming from his “brain now having developed yet” or other equally mean, demeaning things. He just figured it meant he could concentrate well.
  12. Kamotz

    Kamotz God of Monsters

    Leonidas Group Shipping Fleet
    LGS Thermopylae
    05:44 AM (GMT +3)

    The Collared standard-issue transport aircraft slowly descended onto the deck of the Thermopylae, a carrier-class cruiser of the Leonidas Group. Serra emerged from the craft first; she had chosen to pilot the small plane to their destination rather than depend on the contracted Collared transporter. It wasn't the usual modus operandi for Operators, but Serra's ratings were high enough that she was permitted to do so.

    Lance was already in the cramped rear of the aircraft, which barely had room for the White Glint and its equipment, as he prepped for launch. He engaged the release and the rear hatch opened. The docking compartment slid out and pivoted the White Glint upright before disengaging the locking mechanisms and sliding back into the aircraft.

    "White Glint: online and ready for launch," Lance announced from the cockpit. He checked his readings and operational schematics. Everything was green. He glanced down across the readout screens and saw Serra unload her personal operating equipment.

    "I'm headed to the bridge," Serra said into her headset. She looked into the eyes of the White Glint, and though Lance knew she couldn't see him, he nodded his acknowledgment.

    Lance leaned into the controls, sliding his hands into the gauntleted control system. The cybernetic gloves locked around his biceps and clamped snugly around the rest of his arm. A similar feature wrapped around his legs and knees. He felt the AMS boot up, as the control system whirled to life. The controls were an extension of himself, simulating whatever controls he needed at the moment. A few flicks of a finger could send missiles screaming through the air. A twist of the wrist and press of two toes could whip the Glint in a one-hundred degree quick-boost spin. All these controls were calibrated precisely to his specific nervous system and mental signature.

    But this was all second nature now. He didn't even pay attention to the controls slipping over him, or the body-harness locking over his waist and torso. Over the soft chirps and beeps of the system, he heard the nearly-inaudible whisper of his Dark Passenger; heard the soft flutter of its black wings as they sharpened his vision; heard its low chuckle--deep and hungry and condescending.

    "Time to get to work."


    "That'll depend on how we approach the mission," Claire said. She rubbed her temples. "I'm still making some final adjustments to the plan. Collared had one in place, but I like to have a bit more control over the situation than that. I'm sure you understand."

    "To answer your question Miss Leblanc, I have indeed worked with Beatrice. I still do actually, you could call us partners. We worked together for some time now, though I don't see why I couldn't assist another pilot or two. Beatrice does require a certain amount of... attention though so-"

    "I've told you that I don't need you to constantly watch my back." Beatrice said as she walked over. She gave Claire a once over. "If you need Theo to work with some of the others, that's fine by me. I would prefer to keep him as my Operator though, so please keep that in mind."

    Theo sighed. She could be so... cold when she wanted to be. Her abrasive personality was one of the reasons he had to work so hard to keep her off of other people's bad sides. "I think what she is trying to say Miss Leblanc, is that we are a good team. Any others who would receive my assistance as their operator should be well matched to our pair to allow maximum combat efficiency."

    "Of course," Beatrice added. "I'm sure someone of your caliber had already considered that." Though barely perceptible, there was a bit of an icy tone to her voice. Only one who knew her behavior would be able to detect the underlying note of sarcasm.

    Claire sighed. Theo seemed more helpful than his partner; Beatrice was quite rough around the edges and had an icy-sharp tongue. Her dossier mentioned that she came from a privileged background, so that might have explained some of her attitude, but Claire herself wasn't exactly from humble beginnings and she liked to think that she had shed the airs of uptight snobbery. Still, she probably had more in common with Beatrice than she did with anyone else in the room. Perhaps that was why friction had already arisen between them.

    "As long as you can work together I don't see why I should change that," Claire said, not eager to change a well-practiced team out of spite. "I just hope you can continue to regale us with your optimism and sunny disposition. Though if I were you I'd try not to frown and squint so much; that cheery smile of yours just wouldn't look the same with all those wrinkles." Claire mentally smacked herself on the back of the head and grimaced as the words came out of her mouth.

    "Sorry," she said. "That was stupid. We have other things to worry about that which of us can trade insults the best." She checked her watch. "Get settled in, we've still got five hours before we reach the Tungsten and we need to be well-rested."

    Beatrice was surprised. She didn't think that Claire had it in her to get icy like that. Rather than take offense however, she simply smiled. She respected those who stood up for themselves, and though she didn't exactly appreciate the wrinkle comment, her opinion of the redhead had certainly increased.

    "Agreed. Tension isn't going to make working together any easier. I'm sure there will be ample opportunity to exchange pleasantries once we finish our assignment." Beatrice turned and walked off, Theo following close behind her.

    "The two of you are like fire and ice." he said.

    "So you're saying we can't get along?"

    He smiled. "Not at all. Its just that whenever you too meet, there's bound to be some steam."

    "Very funny. You're a riot you know that?" She said, rolling her eyes.

    "Your sarcasm is charming as always." he said. She stared back at him, and he chuckled to himself. "I'll just go make sure your AC is ready then."

    "Yes. That would probably be best."

    Mediterranean Sea
    NAA Carrier Ship - USS Tungsten
    10:30 AM (GMT +2)

    The Super-Harrier landed and the flight-crew got to work unloading the eight Armored Cores from the back of the craft. Most were already fitted and prepared to sortie, so it wouldn't take long for them to get the mission underway.

    "Operators, head to the control bridge," Claire said as she stepped to the riser for the Valkyria. The metal bar cable slid back up and she stood by the core compartment. She had changed into her form-fitting flight suit before they landed. "Pilots, load up and fall in. We should start ASAP."

    Claire slid into the cockpit and let out a gratifying sigh as the systems booted up. Lights and images danced across the screen. She spoke her personal access code, and the Valkyria Redtail's Liminium Ion Engine whirled to life. She ran a quick-check to make sure all her weapons were at compatible levels. Before they boarded in New York, she'd loaded her back-mounted Panzer missiles and the Muskingumo chain gun, and the handheld Motocobra machine gun and Kapyetn railgun, along with the experimental shoulder-mounted Laliguras buckshot auxiliary weapons. Everything checked out, so she closed the back hatch and waited for the rest of the Irregulars to load up.

    "Here's the mission plan," she announced over the private communications channel. "We'll be divided into three teams. Benjamin, and Cynthia will be Team 1 and will operate with Juliana. Team 2 will be operated by Theo and will consist of Beatrice and myself. Team 3 will be operated by Mariette and will be Kotomi, Davis, and Ezekiel." She made sure the others absorbed this before moving on. "We're currently stationed two miles offshore; we have to assume the enemy already knows we're here. We'll quickly get to shore and move into position. Their main compound is several miles inland so we'll go in low and fast to avoid further detection.

    "Once we've moved into range, Team 3 will break off and move into sniping position. Spread out, but remain close enough to back one another up and remain covered by Kotomi's anti-missile defenses." She sent the map to all the pilots and Operators. "The other two teams will continue to move in closer. When the three teams are in position, all missile-capable craft will fire off a volley. Operators will need to time this so that all groups' missiles impact simultaneously. The Silent Reaper's anti-radar missiles should jam them long enough for Team 1 to rush in and begin the assault at high speed. Team 2 will follow behind. The plan is for Team 1 to do a bit of damage and draw the rebel's attention towards us while Team 2 strikes from behind and Team 3 picks off stragglers with long-range fire."

    Claire moved the Valkyria into launching position at the edge of the aircraft carrier. "Is everyone clear with the plan?" she asked. "If you've got questions, ask now. Operators, once we launch and the operation begins I'm deferring tactical command to you three. The goal today: none of us die. Is that understood?"

    "You're all clear for launch," the ship's commander said.

    "Switch to call-signs," Claire ordered as she moved her craft into position. "Scarlet and the Valkyria Redtail...


    Prologue Ended.
    Beginning Stage 1.
    Episode 1: "Intro to Structural Integrity"
  13. storymasterb

    storymasterb Knight of RPGs

    Mediterranean Sea
    NAA Carrier Ship - USS Tungsten
    10:30 AM (GMT +2)

    Ezekiel settled into the seat of the Silent Reaper, hands resting on the controls. As he activated the machine, he felt the power rumbling through it, the generator and engine humming into life and then building to a constant roar. Leaning back in his seat, he adjusted the controls slightly, moving the Armored Core a little as a test. It responded fluidly and immediately, earning a pang of satisfaction. Precise and efficient. Just what he expected from the Bernard and Felix Foundation's handiwork.

    "Pre-action checks, Archer?" Cynthia's voice sounded over his comms, sounding a little amused.

    "Of course," he replied. "Don't you make sure your Core's not about to fail?"

    "I have faith that I'm not suddenly going to have an arm or leg fail," she answered. "In any case, let's get this done. It shouldn't be too much trouble even if something goes wrong."

    "Right." Gripping the controls tightly, he maneuvered the Armored Core into position, getting ready to launch. Cynthia was just behind him in the Winter Eagle, also ready to launch.

    "Clear," Ezekiel said. There were a few moments of anticipation as the others spoke their own agreement, and then Claire spoke once more.

    After the Valkyrie Redtail burst into the air, Ezekiel moved the Reaper up with fluid, swift motions. "Archer and the Silent Reaper... launching!" he declared. His Armored Core burst into the sky, shining in the sunlight. Next, Cynthia moved her snow-white, graceful AC into position, light glinting off of its streamlined edges.

    "Speartip and the Winter Eagle... launching!" Flashing with radiance in the sunlight, the Winter Eagle erupted into the air, chasing the first two Armored Cores and easily catching them up with its edge of speed. As they flew, the others launching to follow, Ezekiel felt his heartbeat quicken slightly. It was time. The battle was about to begin.
  14. niedude

    niedude Don't forget to grin

    The nervousness with which the kid spoke was almost physically painful. It was pretty clear he was nowhere near as good at handling social confrontation as he was with battlefield confrontation. The way he spoke and the sad habit of trying to look past Colette with every word he said... It really said it all.

    But, she could see how uncomfortable she was making the kid feel. She already had made her first approach, after all – better not to push her luck and end up with the kid despising her. So, she quickly made her way to an empty seat as the conversation went on.

    “There’s something about you, something I can’t quite lay my finger on...”

    That was Davis, the man she’d sat next to. He spoke to her as he worked on some schematics he had on his laptop, not once taking his eyes of its blue screen as he spoke.

    “Oh? Is that so?”
    Colette’s voice was soft and kind, but Davis noted how she sounded just a little bit condescending.

    “Out of every man, woman and child here, you were the only one who manifested enough moral discern to actually approach that boy-“

    “Well, I thought it was odd that-“ Colette interrupted him, but Davis proceeded without missing a beat.

    “And you even correctly identified him as the pilot of Thanatos. Now, that’s impressive, but I can’t help but be curious as to how you made that –nevertheless correct – assumption.”

    This was Davis alright. “Curious” was the biggest keyword in his personality report file, after all. Mariette noticed how detached he seemed to be from the rest of the group as he typed away on his computer, it was a wonder he’d noticed there was an infant on board at all.

    “Well, it was a reasonable enough guess. First of all, it’s common sense that, if there is a child soldier on the care of Collared, then they will obviously attempt to hide his identity. Factor in the fact that only top pilots and operators were assigned this mission, and all I had to do was mentally read over the Ranked list until I reached a pilot with no face photo on his profile. Thanatos was the first – and frankly, only – faceless pilot I could come up with.”

    Davis had to admit, he was impressed. She was able to analyze information and collect her findings to form a correct conclusion within minutes of reading a room. If she was going to be this fast at reading a battlefield, he was sure glad to have her on board.

    “Good enough explanation, I guess. Of course, there are a few variables you forgot to account for... Variables which I’m frankly surprised didn’t actually factor in. Let’s accept the fact that that kid is actually underage, and not just physically underdeveloped. For example, if I had a say in the matter, I’d assign a fake pilot to serve as the Thanatos pilot’s face. Use his face in a report and in his arena profile, have him be the one climbing out of the AC at the end of every mission, the works. This would lessen suspicion in a way a faceless pilot doesn’t.”

    Mariette smiled a bit. The conversation was just now getting interesting.

    “But you fail to account for the fact that such a façade would be difficult to maintain. You would need to arrange a way to make the “face” pilot not occupy needed space inside the Core, and you would need to keep the same type of secrecy around the real pilot as you would need with this much simpler approach. Actually, your way just seems to add more complications...”

    “Complications? I like to call them additional safeguards. You see, Colette...”

    Mediterranean Sea
    NAA Carrier Ship - USS Tungsten
    10:30 AM (GMT +2)

    The tight grip of the leather suit as it tightened around his every muscle, the fabric of the suit responding to the electric signals and moulding to every nook and crony of his body made Davis feel more than comfortable. The strain of his muscles as they struggled to rip apart the constraining suit... that, made him feel powerful. It made him feel strong.

    The loud noises of the metallic plaques and hydraulic engines closing the core around him were so comfortable now. Sometimes, when Davis had just installed a new software patch or was just about to test new hardware, that sound was actually exciting. It signalled the start of the process that made him and Jupiter become as close to one as scientifically possible, and the beginning of the moment where he’d start feeling the improvements – new and old – as part of his own body.

    Davis leaned back as the velvet cushioned chair he was in slowly shifted until it was completely vertical and Davis was standing in the middle of an overwhelming amount of blue displays and holographic screens, his back grazing the comfortable material. He pulled the straps and bands that formed his harness and strapped himself tight, buckling them onto the specified slots of his suit. Each coupling came with a click and a small numbing electric charge as the metal magnetized to the suit’s own electrical signature and secured the pilot in place.

    With the coupling of the gauntlets and shin pieces, the connection was complete. Davis skin felt like it expanded as he became aware of his newfound size and weight. After so many years, he no longer felt the vertigo or mild stomach sickness he often felt when he was younger. Davis was completely attuned to his new body.

    “So, I’ll be coordinating the long range team?” Mariette pondered. “Perfectly fine by me. I’ll have my eyes on you and your enemies at all times.”

    “You better. I’ll appreciate constant updates on the positions of any enemies I am not focusing on.”

    “Don’t worry, Davis. I’ve never Operated for three before, but I’ve operated for two several times. I know perfectly well how to multitask.”

    Davis studied the map as the Jupiter was moved onto the ship’s most powerful catapult. “Then I suggest Orphan take the middle in formation, so as to keep us both within reach of the jammers.”

    “Yes, Davis. With all due respect, I think we’d all figured that out.”

    Davis bit his lip. He had a habit of thinking out loud sometimes, and more than once had it made him come off as annoying and patronizing.

    “Sorry, just thinking out loud.”

    A green CLEAR sign signalled the Jupiter was ready for takeoff.

    “Well, here we go then. Seer, I’m uploading data on the time-curve between launch and impact of the Jupiter’s Vertical Missiles, see if you find that useful to time the missile launch.”

    Davis’ heart beat jumped. He tightened his every muscle and sent a wave of excitement through the AMS system as signals. The Jupiter’s engines roared loudly in response. Every primary and secondary luminium power cells were routed to the flight jets as they revved up to an uncountable number of RPM.

    “Titan IS OFF!”

    In a violent explosion of noise the jets shot off enough power to thrust the hundred ton machine flying. The clumsy giant shot up to the sky, somewhat higher than most pilots would say was needed, but Davis knew better. It would have been impossible to keep the hulking frame of the Jupiter from maintaining a low level of flight just above sea level, so he decided to gain some altitude and stabilize the Jupiter in mid air before compensating for the altitude and dropping lower, where radars would have a harder time picking him up.
  15. Kamotz

    Kamotz God of Monsters

    Stage 1.
    Episode 1: "Intro to Structural Integrity"

    Mission Time 00:05

    Things were going smoothly, which by all accounts meant that something terrible was about to happen. This terrible thing, however, was nowhere in sight for the moment, and Claire was happy to let it be and not dwell on the subject further. Five minutes into the mission, and the only thing the seven Irregulars had seen was concrete and more concrete. They could have made the trip by air, but that would have left them exposed to anti-aircraft weapons and made their approach more visible. Their five-meter tall machines hardly seemed to blend in with the scenery, but they hadn't found a single enemy outpost or guard encampment. Claire was surprised that they hadn't encountered any resistance. The docks and streets were almost deserted.

    Claire checked her display; they were nearing on the compound's projected location, which meant they might run into resistance rather soon. She brought the Valkyria to a stop and maneuvered it low, dropping the reverse-legged craft down into a bird-like squat. It wasn't the most dignified-looking position, but it kept her profile lowered and less visible. And with a bright-red craft like hers, that was a necessity.

    "Get ready to split up. Clear?" she radioed over the communications channel. A chorus of "clear" answered her as the group split into their three teams and fell into position. Leading teams 1 and 2, Clair maneuvered through the streets and corridors established by the nearby buildings. At the low speeds they were moving now, they could afford to operate for themselves and leave the three Operators to concentrate on maintaining surveillance. But that would change soon.

    "Where the hell is everything?" Claire wondered aloud. The message was broadcasted over the communications channel, but it wasn't really directed at anyone other than herself. She drove a fist into the cockpit wall. "I hate faulty intel."

    They continued their creep through the streets, foregoing the continuous glide-boosting for slow, deliberate steps. Libya had been a war zone since the early part of the twenty-first century, passing hands between terrorist groups and puppet governments. The buildings around them were half-riddled with bullet holes and scoured by bomb blasts, but still seemed stable enough. Most still had their glass windows intact, and even looked lived in.

    "Tarot, what's going on here? Can you get some imagery of this place? It looks damn-near deserted," Claire said.

    Those were the magic words.

    A loud pop erupted, and something screamed down from the top of a nearby building. It slammed into the Jupiter and showered the rest of them in fire.

    "RPG!" Claire called out, swinging her craft into attack position. She spotted a man on a rooftop. He hefted another weapon over his shoulder but never got the second shot off. Claire's machine gun tore him apart.

    But it wasn't over. The seven Irregulars were suddenly under fire from every direction. People opened up on them from rooftops and windows with all manner of weaponry - small and large caliber rounds, grenades, even improvised Molotov cocktails.

    "We have to get out of the corridor!" Claire shouted, moving as quickly as she could to avoid the incoming fire. "We're sitting ducks here." She cued up the Operators. "Tarot, Seer, Celeste. You're on deck; let's see what you can do." She swung around a blind corner and fired into an incoming jeep. "We need a route out of the hot-zone so we can recover the mission."
  16. niedude

    niedude Don't forget to grin


    Light blue indicators beeped off the circular radar screen, detecting no enemies and no odd movement. Presently it was set for mid to long range detection of AC-sized threats, yet only the green dots of friendlies colored its surface. Odd.

    “This place is in shambles,” Davis sounded over the radio. “If anyone mech’s were here we’d have seen them by now, there’s nowhere to hide.”

    “Our snipers are picking nothing,” Collete continued. “Your combined visuals show no obvious hiding spots good enough to hide more than - at most - a couple of Cores, and I detect no radar jamming tech here.”

    “This is too basic, I don’t like it. If Collared needed a team of this size I’d expect us to be against a veritable army. Either we’re being driven to the ambush of the century or our intel was dead wrong.”


    “Yes, Seer?”

    “I’m gonna need you to run vanguard for a bit. We’ve been doing recon for too long now and we’re not picking up anything. If there’s anything here, it’s waiting for an ambush. We need to flush them out.”

    “So you’re sending me to the wolf’s lair to see what comes out? Can’t say I don’t feel privileged but you won’t take it to heart if I’m not really looking forward to it.”
    Davis was a bit shocked and nervous at the suggestion, but it wasn’t the first time he’d played the bait.

    “You’re by far the best armored of the bunch and you’ve got good radar equipment. You have the best chance of surviving the initial wave of an ambush while also having a good shot at detecting movement before it’s too late. Besides…” Collete began playing in her field. “I believe your machine is by far advanced enough to carry out this tactic, but if you have any qualms regarding its possible performance, I can send-”

    “Roger,” Davis interrupted, his voice strikingly bitter yet carrying an obvious drive to it. “The Jupiter is more than adequate for this assignment. Breaking formation and taking the vanguard as we speak…”

    Feeling a rush of pride at the chance to boast his machine’s prowess, Davis moved from his spot at the back of the crew to the vanguard. He would not waste this chance to show off. With pride swollen he ran - resisting the urge to dash the whole path (and give away their position) - as his rail gun collapsed upon itself and reduced to nearly half its size, shortening the barrel and increasing its fire rate significantly.

    His radar still picked up no hostiles, but the pilot couldn’t disregard this uneasy feeling he had. Call it a veteran’s second sense, if you will. And, just as he approached the Valkyria Redtail, warning sirens screamed inside the core, picking up a high-velocity projectile seconds before it slammed into the Jupiter’s side. The force of the blast shook the core - its momentum dampeners having barely had the time to calibrate the adequate level of force to spread - but such an impact jump-started Davis’ instincts into full blown combat mode.

    Davis quick-boosted back, simultaneously regaining his line of sight and jumping out of the smoke. The status screens told of minor surface damage indicative of insufficient fire-power. That meant one thing: that wasn’t Core-type weaponry.

    The automated CPU of the core presented a damage report with that info just as Collete revealed it to all pilots:

    “We’re up against civilians!”

    Both members then felt a tinge of regret along with a dreadful sense of what was to come ahead. They, armed with hulking machines, each an army, would be killing - slaughtering - rebels with lives so tragic they forsook their humble lives for a chance to make a difference. They would be fighting more than unlucky men; they would be fighting one of the worst incarnations of how cruel the real world was, a living incarnation of the dark reality that was the human condition.

    Collete scanned her readings again while Davis just took it all in. You’d think a man of his age and with his repertoire would have hardened himself in the face of these… tragedies, or even grown used to it.

    Ha, such ugly lies.

    “Titan, the joint radar tracing has triangulated some of the shots coming from the building directly behind you. A carefully positioned grenade can…”

    “Bring the whole building down,” Davis completed. He’d seen the flashes of shots coming from the cracks and windows of that same building and he’d directed his thermal scanners at it. At such a short range, it was even able to detect heat signatures of the individuals inside it: a total of 23 civilians were hiding there… But only 11 were carrying guns, from what he could see. The other 12 were…


    The giant robot raised its left arm slowly, almost regretfully. Its gesture was one of penance and guilt, feelings so heavy they burdened even the several ton machine. Davis flicked the trigger and the machine responded immediately, shooting a grenade at the precise spot where an explosion would blow up the building’s old, crumbling foundations. As the blast brought down the structure, a ticker already in the several thousands behind Davis’ head counted upwards, one number at a time, until the number it showed was exactly 23 units higher than its previous indication.

    “Hostiles eliminated. Proceeding sweeping tactics.”
  17. GoldenHouou

    GoldenHouou Up To No Good

    Mediterranean Sea
    NAA Carrier Ship - USS Tungsten

    10:30 AM (GMT +2)

    Benjamin was indescribably glad when the carrier finally landed and the assorted pilots and operators scattered to get to their Armored Cores. Not only had the tension and insult-exchanging, no matter how short-lived, between some of the pilots made him extremely nervous, Benjamin believed he couldn’t take another minute surrounded by so many people. As much as he liked to observe people usually, now that he didn’t have a mask and his codename to hide behind, he lacked the courage to actually raise his gaze from his knees to direct it at someone.

    He could be described as a nervous wreck right then and yet, as he stood up with everyone else and started to make towards Obsidian, his face gained a more determined expression and something stirred in the back of his mind, rushing his steps. He hesitated to call it excitement; he wasn’t one to particularly enjoy shooting others down on the battlefield. Yet, he could figure out no other word to refer to it as but excitement, pure and raw. He wanted time to move faster. He wanted to be inside his Armored Core, aiming at the enemy, proving himself to these people and to the red-eyed man he could still feel following his every step like a ghost. He felt guilty over that excitement though, and was quick to try and hide it under any other feeling he could hold onto, even if he didn’t realize it himself.

    he had mostly succeeded in that by the time he reached the cockpit too. But, the second the lights lit up and the engines let out their usual growl upon awakening, all that effort went into vain and Benjamin’s head instantly became a melting pot of emotions again. Everything from guilt to excitement to pride to the immense, all-consuming feeling of power spun around in his mind. And still, even with the mess going on between his ears, the boy felt at complete ease. It was a feeling of completeness he could feel nowhere else but in the controls of Obsidian. The suit hugging his body was the warmest embrace he had ever felt and the sounds of the engine the most comforting whispers ever spoken to him. He felt at home. Within his Armored Core, he wasn’t an awkward kid unable to introduce himself without hyperventilating anymore; he was a pilot, and he was in control of the machine, of its power, of its skill. He, who had never been able to decide a single thing for himself all his life, now had the power to control a weapon of destruction with a mere flick of his wrist. It was his mind and his actions that moved the beautiful, powerful frame of a war machine. It was an empowering feeling unlike no other, and even as they were explained their mission, Benjamin could feel his fingertips tingle with anticipation.

    He had never been good at anything else but piloting all his life, so he couldn’t but wonder; was this what news anchors felt like before a broadcast? Was this what famous soccer players felt when they switched on their gear before a game? Was the anxiousness, coupled with a feeling of impatience what actors experienced before entering a stage? Was this what everyone felt when about to engage in the one thing that defined who they were? Did the other pilots feel like this? Fearful yet expectant? Or was he the only one?

    He probably was. And the thought made his ears grow red from embarrassment. The others probably thought nothing of this.

    Benjamin flinched slightly at the mention of his name, his real name – it wasn’t often he was referred to with his given name and not his codename – but a simple breath was enough to calm him down for now. He wanted to hear the mission, and everything else would need to be deemed irrelevant. That’s… what his father had always told him, at least.

    I think so…

    “Yes,” Benjamin muttered, more to himself than anyone else. His eyes were focused and his arms shook just a tad. From what, he didn’t know. “Thanatos and Obsidian…”

    He drew in a breath and hoped to swallow all anxiety he still held with it.


    In a black blur, the Armored Core took flight, following all those that had left before it.


    Mission Time 00:05

    Benjamin kept holding his breath as the group of seven traveled through the barren city, as if letting out a single breath would alert the enemy and lead them into conflict. He was torn at what the silence meant and what his opinion on it was, and the more they advanced, the stronger the gap between his conflicting thoughts became.

    On the other hand, part of him was relieved. The longer they could travel in peace, the more civilians would be spared. Having to open fire right at the city gates would’ve meant the entire place could easily fall into ruin. He didn’t want people to die during this mission if at all possible. It was a naïve hope to be sure, but one he held onto regardless. Armored Cores he could cut down, humans he couldn’t. Didn’t. He wasn’t a killer, no matter how much the red-eyed man following him around told him otherwise.

    And yet, on the other hand, he was frustrated over not seeing anyone yet. He longed to get to open fire already, and so part of him hoped his radar would soon blink with a familiar, red dot for him to target and destroy. He felt like he was wasting time like this.. He wanted to be useful already, wanted to feel proud and like he was worth of something. Just sitting inside Obsidian and being on a stroll did nothing to make him seem like a respected pilot. His pride was hurting. He was impatient. He wanted to get this over with.

    Benjamin shook his head. He was thinking too much again. Worse yet, he was feeling again. Didn’t his dad always warn him against that? It made one avert their thoughts from the mission at ha-

    The second the Jupiter was hit with a blast to its side, Benjamin’s senses flared up. His heart was racing so hard he could feel it beat against his chest as he pulled Obsidian back out of sheer reflex, avoiding the fire that rained down unto the Cores. He turned to face the source of the attack, ready to blast off towards it and slice it to half, only to flinch the second he saw what he was targeting; a civilian.

    A split second, and the man was no more as the group’s leader practically tore him to shreds with fire. Benjamin flinched at the sight, feeling sick to his stomach. She just… she just murdered a person, without even a moment of hesitation! Was this what all the other pilots really were like? Cold blooded killers? Panic hit the boy all of a sudden. He didn’t want to have to do the same. Not become the same. He was different. He’d always be. He only shot machines. Lifeless things.

    He could see the red-eyed man look down on him. No. No, he only-

    Before he could finish that thought, another array of bullets followed. They were under an attack from everywhere around them, and Benjamin instantly switched to making evasive maneuvers. Although the fact that he was still ground-bound and hadn’t built up speed made him slower than usual, he was still fast enough to get out of the way of the bigger blasts. And the ones that hit, they barely did any damage, even if Obsidian wasn’t a defensive Core. His radar didn’t pick up enemy Cores. The firing came from inside houses, too.

    Benjamin knew what all of that implied even before one of the operators spelled it out for them all to hear.

    Benjamin tried not to resent her for pointing it out so clearly he could no longer delude himself into thinking otherwise.

    Juliana, on the other hand, let out a frustrated grumble. Although she didn’t fancy shooting up townspeople, she didn’t exactly have qualms about it either. These people weren’t innocent grannies and kids caught in the way of fire; they were the ones who had attacked first. Whoever came in the way of the mission had to be dealt with, as cruel as it might sound. But she knew all too well her protégé didn’t think the same. He’d be devastated.

    “Thanatos, they opened fire first,” she began more as a command than as an explanation, but received no word in reply. She decided not to waste her breath. As much as she wanted to help the kid, she knew that right then, she couldn’t. He’d have to fare on his own; she was still busy trying to find a way out of the middle of the enemy fire. Wasting both ammo and time in taking down all of these civilians in the middle of gunfire was hardly the best tactic. Like their leader had said and requested, they needed a way out of the hot spot.

    Apparently, someone hadn’t gotten the message though; in an instant, way before Juliana had even started to announce an alternate way out of the situation, Jupiter had destroyed an entire building full of rebels.


    “What did you-,” Benjamin began before he could help himself, eyes wide but bit his lip and managed to keep himself from saying anything more. No, arguing with the others and showing weakness this early on was hardly the ideal plan. So then what? He couldn’t shoot. He couldn't do anything but keep evading. This was ridiculous. Horrible. Why didn't the people stop? Didn't they see that no matter how many rounds they fired, they were nothing but a distraction and an annoyance to their Cores? They could never take them down like this. So why, why did they risk their lives? Why were they so... so stupid?!

    “Celest-!” Benjamin finally shouted in his desperation. He had nobody else to turn to, and she always made things right. Always. She had to.

    “There are two routes nearby that should leave you in the clear,” Juliana began, interrupting her charge and ignoring his words for now. She had to be professional, and Benjamin had to understand that so did he. This was a battleground. “Sending all of you coordinates and visual now. There’s a problem though.”

    She wasn't sure how to phrase it, not when she wasn't sure if it was just her being paranoid or actually a valid point to make.

    “One of them seems almost too perfect. Long barren street, could act as a runway for picking up speed, possibly even for flight. But nobody’s in sight there either, could be another ambush.” She switched to displaying the other option and its coordinates, Trying to orally convey where the routes were in relation to their current position would've just wasted time, even if both routes were really close. “The other one requires you to blast another building, and there are more civilians there. They’re scattered and should leave more room for evasive maneuvers however.”

    She nodded. “Take your pick. Or take these people out and continue by air; we are already detected and can move more freely when airborne. No point in wasting any more time and allowing the enemy to prepare their main force.” She chuckled dryly. "It's doubtful these people are but a distraction. We weren't called in for this."
  18. niedude

    niedude Don't forget to grin


    Bullets flew from all sides, grazing the metal plating of the Jupiter with countless stings that failed to do any lasting damage. Failing the recoil from the occasional grenade or rocket blast, the robot didn’t even budge slightly. Inside the safe, ventilated core, Davis analyzed a great number of screens; everything from damage reports, to geographic and tactical layout to comparing a numerous number of datafeeds to reach the best case scenario. The man was pretty much his own operator, his own tech skills excelling those of many temporary partners he’d been assigned, yet he still couldn’t quite trace an optimal route when countless rebels held him in their sights.

    Mariette, unburdened by the pressure of being on the actual battlefield and not having to monitor an AC from the inside, had a much easier time with data analysis. She’d instead use this hole to keep an eye out on Benjamin: the kid pilot who’d caught her completely offguard and only added to the amount of “odd” she’d need to describe this assignment. Being careful not to alert his caretaker/operator - who Colette grew increasingly suspicious off, something about her didn’t seem quite right - she added his Core’s readings to those of the three she was coordinating. She was also careful to listen to how she addressed the boy, to find out whether she was a positive caretaker or a negative, oppressive influence to him; something about him had attracted her attention, and it wasn’t only his age, either.

    “It would be helpful if we were given any more info on this mission,” Davis grunted, a slight frustration present under the many layers of professional and emotional detachment he’d built up. “Our best course of action right now would be to spread out and regroup for a later strike, but we can’t very well do that when we don’t even know what or where we are to strike.”

    He took a moment to re-evaluate his options and let his cold blood give him a better judgement. He made the Jupiter jump back with a quick thrusters, hiding his frame in a small street he’d just uncovered.

    “But, if those are our best two choices, I vote we bring down the building. We were already lured into one trap, I bet they’re expecting us to take the choice that would case the least amount of collateral damage and loss of life by evacuating through that very convenient road.”

    “Davis has a point. I can easily see some of these area’s terrorist groups manipulating a small militia, using them as lure, first by staging out a preliminary ambush and routing us to a spot where they can pick us off much more easily. I recommend the approach that minimizes our exposure.”

    Colette brought up the image locations and re-evaluated them further while she listened to the comm.-radio and weighted her teammates points and opinions.
  19. Kamotz

    Kamotz God of Monsters

    Mission Time 00:05

    "They're not civilians, they're enemy combatants," Claire growled over the comm. She swirled into a series of quick-boosts that launched her off the side of a building and brought her above the streets. From her new vantage point she spotted six vehicles, each equipped with heavy machine guns, heading their direction. She let loose with a volley of missiles and ended the threat before it could really manifest.

    "The minute they decided to pick up weapons and shoot at us they became the enemy," she snapped, though she wasn't quite sure who she was trying to convince. Truthfully, she had no problem killing when she had to. It was part of the job. Armed combatants, regardless of their weaponry, were a threat and needed to be stopped before they could deal further damage. It was the unarmed--the people stuck in their midst--that made her hesitate.

    "Have Archer and Orphan break off," she called out, hoping Theo, Mariette, and Juliana would get the idea. She throttled down back to street level as a missile screamed past her. "Sniper positions. Cover us as we make our move."

    "And what might that be?" Ezekiel grunted against the increasing G-force of a quick-boost. He'd shot into the air to skim rooftops and look for a good vantage point. Unfortunately, with buildings so uniformly-sized and packed-together, finding a good spot would be difficult.

    "Split up," Claire said. "Speed, with me down the empty corridor. Power, punching holes. Tarot, find them an empty building to blow through."

    "Roger that," Theo said, understanding Claire's intent after a flash. "Speartip and Thanatos, you're with Scarlet down that street." He pulled up Beatrice's systems. "Vega, I'm pinging your equipment for a field layout. Brief power flux in three seconds."

    Beatrice swung around for cover as Theo rerouted a portion of power to her off-system scanners. He ran a quick-check and sent Beatrice the highlighted results on her HUD.

    "Vega and Titan, I've marked an alternate route," he said. "Avoiding the building and non-combatant casualties." He was struck by an idea and keyed in a last-minute change. "Follow it and you'll come into flank position should Scarlet's group come under fire."

    "Juliana--er, Celeste--I'm transferring Scarlet's operating protocols to your console. Have Thanatos and Speartip link up with her," he keyed in a few commands and brought up the rest of the team on the screen. "Linking with Titan now." He swiped Claire's layout over to Juliana's console and brought Davis's over to his. "Seer, you're still operating for Orphan and Archer."

    Theo brought up his two pilots' schematics, weapons, and read-outs. He pulled down a coordinate-grid overlay, marking out the buildings the two needed to break through. He ran the math (with the help of the Operating program).

    "I've calculated a speed and firing solution for the both of you. Grenades only," he announced to Titan and Vega. "It's taken into account your individual acceleration and speed, individual weapon effectiveness, and collective damage readout. Follow the commands and fire when prompted. You should make it through in approximately 50 seconds."

    Claire shot down to Benjamin and Cynthia. The trio maneuvered through a few quick turns and accelerated down the long strip of road with a steady boost, rapidly increasing speed.

    "Celeste, it looks like we're in the--" she was about to say 'clear', but should have known better. Such optimistic statements were the usual summoning words for reversals in fortune.

    Heavy fire slammed into her machine, and she briefly lost control. The Valkyria slammed against the street as more fire opened up on them. But it wasn't combatants on cars with machine guns anymore.

    "Normals!" Claire shouted over the open comm., hoping to warn the rest. She pivoted her craft and boosted out of the line of fire just as another barrage ripped apart the space she'd just occupied. "Take them out!"
  20. Kamotz

    Kamotz God of Monsters

    Mediterranean Sea
    Mission Time: 00:18:18

    He was gone.

    Immersed fully in the moment. In the screech of steel-on-steel. In the whirl of missiles, the hissing flash of energy bolts. Fully absorbed into the pull of the AMS link so that he--in that place and time--did not truly know where he ended and the White Glint began.

    He was lost.

    And there was only the heady thrum. The pulsing rhythm of sea and waves and fire. Of red-skied morning and red-mooned night blurring together at dawn and sunset--though he preferred the latter of both--that brought the tempo of that moment, heavy with the notes of death, to a fever-pitch.

    He was beyond.

    Beyond reason and instinct, beyond intellect and savagery; there is a place and state of being where they all intersect. Where they claw themselves together under the banner of a single idea, a concept--a single all-enlightening, all-consuming thought. A word.


    The notes went white-hot and crackled. And the world went bright until its edges crept with darkness and everyone went blind. And the moon rose in the sky, leering, fat, and red. And in that red-lit blackness there was no one else but him. And yet, he was not alone.

    Never alone.

    He felt the thing well in dark spaces behind his eyes. Felt it watch as the music came to a fever pitch. Felt the Hunger and the Need shiver up through him and call out. Felt it rise up within him from the place his soul might once have been and spread its enormous wings out over the sky. And chuckle.

    The Dark Passenger...

    "Area clear," a voice spoke, and reality came flooding back. At once, Lance became distinctly aware of the confines of the Core, of the low hum of the luminium engine, of the faint chirp of the Glint's systems. Not that he hadn't known of these things before. They had just seemed so...inconsequential.

    "All hostiles have been eliminated," a firm voice announced over the comm. But the voice was a lie. Not in what it said, but how it was said. Try as she might, Serra couldn't ever really hide her vulnerability. Not from him. Not from the Passenger.

    "Negligible damage," Serra continued, reporting on the status of the Glint. "Initial scans indicate a slight power deviation in the right-front booster during 00:02:09 to 00:02:15; as well as a link-synchronicity decrease for a frame of 8.25 non-consecutive seconds."

    "Within parameters," Lance said, easing the White Glint over the water towards the Leonidas Group carrier.

    "But still up 17 percent from last time," Serra countered.

    "Ammunition expenditure?" Lance asked.

    "68 percent remaining. Again, within parameters, but higher than expected," Serra said, predicting Lance's answer.

    "The enemy appeared in greater-than-expected numbers," Lance said. He landed the Glint on the main deck and began to cycle down the combat-systems. "Deviations are to be expected."

    "Accuracy was at 92 percent," Serra deadpanned.

    Lance narrowed his eyes and frowned in frustration. He ignored the condescending chuckle of the Passenger.

    "Then I suppose it's time for--"

    "A tune-up," Serra said, anticipating his answer once again.

    Lance laughed, slipping on the impeccable mask of good-natured humanity. "You know the drill. Let's have some of these Leonidas people load us back up and we'll head home."
    Serra closed out of the Operating program and packed the holographic displays away, though she saved the mission briefing and update board for last. Truthfully, Lance hadn't been the only one performing sub-par on the mission. She'd been just as distracted--if not more-so--by the periodic updates and reports of a Collared mission in Libya.

    The automated updates sent over by the mission Operators' programs had piqued her interest, though she didn't know why. It was a strange feeling, a tingling sensation on the back of her neck, a hitch in her breath, an increase in heart-rate, none of which she could explain or understand where they'd come from. But it was a feeling. A gut instinct. And if her time with Lance had taught her anything, it was to follow those instincts, those invisible forces.

    The Need.

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