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Chapter 3

Posted by Terminator98, 28 February 2004 · 2,845 views


Chapter 3

Ten O'Clock in the morning. Alex was watching the news on TV while comfortably seated on a leather couch. Most of the reports concerned events that were pretty common in a citizen of Layered. One report did catch his attention though. The sabotage and bombing of a certain crest facility in :

« ... recent attack. Crest's accusations towards Mirage were denied, the latter stating that ''we were in no way involved. Crest should learn more about us and refrain from accusing us of being able of such low blows and un-honorable acts. Only weaklings do these kinds of actions, we have no need to do so'' said Mirage's spokesman. This was indeed true, as a third, yet unknown group claimed responsibility for the attack. Calling themselves UNION, they have explained that the reason behind their motives is that the Controller is malfunctioning, and can no longer be trusted. According to them, Mirage, Crest, Kisaragi and all the other companies are refusing to see that, and that it will be their downfall if they do not act quickly. Crest's reply was harsh: ''UNION is a band of lunatics that are seeking to cause trouble. It is impossible for the controller to be malfunctioning, it was built to endure for eternity by our ancestors. These terrorists are just using this justification as an excuse to bring the corporations down and uplift chaos amongst our curent society. Crest will be there to counter them, wherever they may be.'' »

The Controller? Malfunctioning? Alex thought that if this hadn't already been the case since it was built. He hated the controller. The idea of having humanity's destiny being decided by a set of calculations and random modifiers disgusted him.
Tilting his head up, Alex looked at the clock. Realizing what time is was, he threw a quick glance at his room's door. Still closed. « Gosh... She sure sleeps a long time... I wonder if she's fine? » Alex thought to himself.
On the other side of the door, Haruka was quietly sleeping, un-disturbed by the rays of light coming from the artificial sunlight.
« Geez... perhaps I should go check on her... ehm, but she might think I'm doing something fishy... yeah.. that's not something a gentleman should do. But what if... arrgghhh... »
Lost and not knowing what to do Alex decided to gather his courage and go check on Haruka to see if everything was alright on her side.
Slowly rotating the knob on his room's door, Alex tried to be as silent and discrete as possible. At first, he peeked through the small opening he had made by slightly swinging the door open. Unable to see clearly, he swung it further open.
Haruka was facing the other side, and the blanket was hiding most of her body from the angle Alex was viewing her.
« Hmmm... she might not be feeling well... »
Some odd force he couldn't name compelled him to go and see from the other side. As he approached the other side of the bed, he turned bright red from the spectacle.
Haruka was wearing a small white Nightgown that went down to her upper legs, revealing quite a lot of her beautiful legs. Her beautiful hair was spread around sparkling with the light that shone on it. The expression on her face was of a priceless serenity, soothing to the point that Alex thought he was about to have a heart failure.
« Whhhaaa... what are you thinking you-!? » Alex thought to himself. « I... I should get out of here... ».
Alex turned around and was about to walk away, when suddenly, something grabbed his arm and pulled him down. The next second, he felt a sharp pain on the side of his neck, as if something had stung him hard. Contrasting with his pain, he felt smooth hands and the touch of a warm body below him. Stunned for a few seconds, Alex came to realize that it was Haruka's doing.

« Ha.. Haruka? WHAT ARE YOU DOING? » He cried out while being in a state of all out panic. The latter had her eyes closed, lost in a dream. Alex's voice was loud enough to wake her up though.
She started muttering a few inaudible words while slowly opening her eyes. She could feel a warm liquid flowing in her mouth, its sweet taste pleasantly tickling her taste buds.
« Ehm... it hurts... » some familiar voice told her.
As she grasped back all of her senses, she understood that she had just bitten Alex and was sucking his blood.
« What? WHAT AM I DOING? » she shouted out loud as she unknowingly pushed Alex back, making him fall off the bed. Alex landed with a hard impact on his head while shouting out her name.
« Alex-san! Are you okay? » Haruka exclaimed while reaching out to him. The latter pulled himself back up painfully. She rushed to him and examined the wound she had inflicted on him. « I am so sorry Alex-san... I was dreaming and... » Alex was already moving away from her before she could finish, trying to crawl away backwards. He stopped only when he backed into the cupboard.
Haruka looked down, ashamed of herself. « You must be afraid of now... aren't you? »
She didn't realize that as she had been inspecting Alex's wound earlier over from the bed, Alex could see quite a large amount of her cleavage. The latter was now redder than he had been before, trying to back away from the sight, which for an innocent soul such as him, was too much too handle. « Nn.... nnn... no, no! It's just that, I... I'll be right back! »
Alex stood up on his feet and rushed out of the room. Haruka watched silently. « How did I come to do this... Alex-san... » Grabbing the pillow and stuffing her head in it, Haruka silently meditated on what she had just done.
In the bathroom, Alex was splashing water on his face. « Gosh... I should have never gone in there... But she was so cute... ah and so warm... AHA, no, no, this isn't very becoming of me... I should apologize to her for sneaking in on her. »
As he came out of the bathroom, Haruka was waiting for him, this time, fully dressed. At least he could handle this. Both looked at each other silently for a moment, before they simultaneously said:

« Please excuse me! »

« Eh? Why do you need to excuse yourself? I'm the one who sneaked into that room... Hem, nope, I was actually worried that you might not be feeling well... it was 10:00 AM, so I thought I ought to check on you... »

« I'm the one who should apologize Alex... Didn't I just hurt you? »

Alex touched the two marks on his neck. They had stopped bleeding, and the wounds had closed themselves. While smiling, he replied to her:

« Nah.. it's alright. It hurt a bit yeah... but it's alright »

« Alex-san... »

« Hehe... » His smile turned into an embarrassed laugh.

Haruka stood there for a second, wondering what was going on. She suddenly widened her eyes, and an angry expression quickly drew itself on her face. She proceeded to smack Alex hard on his head with her clenched fist, much like a hammer plunging on a nail.

« Ouch... what was that for?! » Alex said all perplexed.

« Your thoughts Alex. You still think too loud. »

What he was thinking? Alex took a few seconds to gather what was going through his mind some instants earlier. When he came to think of it, he had been reveling himself with the feeling of Haruka's soft skin and the warmth of her gentle body.

« AH... THIS... It's not what you think! Let me explain myself! Haruka! » He said desperately while trying to come up with an excuse.

« I'm going to take a walk... »

« Wait, wait! »

Haruka had already left. Alex went on to chase her, begging her to stop and listen to him. The passers looked on with amused expressions. Some of them even were Alex' neighbors.

« Wow, that's one fine and dandy girl he got himself » a young boy commented to his mother.

« Haha, that boy's growing up I guess! » an old grandma thought to herself.

Meanwhile, inside another area of Layered, there was no such jovial and familial atmosphere. Inside a huge coliseum-like facility with frenzied spectators watching on every side, two Armored Cores were getting ready to face each other. The battle commentator, seated was getting pretty excited.

« Ladies and gentlemen... welcome to Global Cortex's arena! This is Owen Whistler, watching along your very eyes unparalleled battles between the steel behemoths known as Armored Cores! Today's match is to decide who will hold the rank of E-1! The competitors are Twinhead-W and Vice! »

Two gates opened up, letting in the ACs. They all saluted the crowd while making their entrance. Most of the on-lookers seemed to be cheering for Twinhead-W.

Through all this commotion, there was one observation room perched higher than the standard stands. Two men sat there, seemingly discussing about important matters.

« Isn't this magnificent? You would think that we are in ancient Rome, watching the fight between Gladiators... look at that bloodthirsty crowd! » One man said to the other. He was clad in a white uniform, and the Kisaragi emblem was printed on his clothes.

« Quit diverting from the subject. I came here to make sure you were registering us. » the other man said in a threatening tone.

« Haha.. Mister Yuji, you do realize that I am the one that's got all the cards in hand here right? Don't act so almighty please... » the Kisragi representative said while smirking.

« Fine... Fine.. pardon me. So you've got us registered right? » Yuji asked in a more subdued tone.

The man adjusted the glasses that were on his face while smiling. « Yes. » He took out a notebook from his bag and handed it to Yuji. « In this computer, you will get all the information needed. I have even allowed myself to give you three a little starting bonus. Once that you've passed your Raven test I'll have state of the art ACs waiting for you, all customized according to each others' fighting styles. »

Yuji took the notebook and switched it on, verifying if this Kisaragi representative was telling the truth.
« Why help us that much? What is it that you want? Since that day that you've come towards me... you still haven't explained me your motives... »

« Hehe... Let's just say I know a lot about you and the two others... We are interested in your abilities... I've seen what you can do, but I want to see more of it, for there certainly is more to see... »

Both men paused for a moment of silence, locking their eyes into some sort of telepathic conflict.
The Kisaragi representative smiled, seemingly satisfied.

« I understand your doubt, but there's no other way to quickly cure your sister is there? I will be leaving you for now. I have other matters I have to attend to... Good luck with your Raven trials. »

As the man left, Yuji gently put his right hand on the notebook, as if to feel it, see if it was real. It was really happening. The future was in there. The cure for Haruka and Alex. He did not know why he was trusting this man, but something compelled him to. It was as if he had some sort of premonition that what he was doing was the right thing.
Yuji lifted his head and saw the match between the two Armored Cores. Their boosters were set on maximum output, both were moving at high speed around the arena, trying to outmaneuver each other. Twinhead-W suddenly seemed as if he was starting to gain the advantage. Vice's movement had become more cumbersome and his attempts to evade were becoming less and less successful. Shots after shots were to battering Vice's Armored Core.

Yuji did not bother to watch the rest of the fight. He left the room, wanting to head back and see again the two that were waiting for him.

Meanwhile, as he opened the door and departed, the Kisaragi official that had talked to him was in a nearby room. Another one of his colleagues had joined him and was conversing with him.

« So... doctor Yamato. How did it go? »

« Fine Setsuna. He's accepted our help. »

« Are you sure about this? If the main branch was to find out what we're doing... »

« The main branch has nothing to do with this. We have been assigned a job by the CEO, and we will do it, the ways don't matter, as long as we can obtain the results... »

« So we shall continue watching them? »

« Surely Setsuna... Neo-Plus has revealed itself as even a greater achievement from what I had expected... those three... they are the key. »

Back to the other side of Layered, Alex and Haruka were sharing the same table at a cafe. Alex was exasperated looking back and forth at Haruka and the cup of coffee in front of him. Haruka was visibly sulking on the other side of the table, her arms crossed and her face all stoic.

« Haruka... For how long will you be mad at me? » Alex asked hesitantly.

« I'm not mad at you at all » She replied bluntly.

Alex sighed at the obvious lie. He lamented himself for thinking such stupid stuff, as actually, he never had these thoughts before. He was wondering what had gone wrong with him.

« So yeah... »

« Alex... You haven,t changed at all have you? » Haruka said while hiding a snicker. « I was a bit afraid that you'd have perhaps changed and become different, but you're still the good old Alex I know. Thinking out loud, shy and clumsy... teehee »

« Me? I've changed a lot my dear Haruka... just not in the ways you think! »

« Haha. Quit talking big. Anyways. I was thinking of those days back then at the Mirage Orphanage... Remember how you used to be a crybaby about everything until Yuji came and... ehm, put back some manliness in you? »

Alex remembered his older self. Insecure, frail, yet always dreaming. He remembered the nice and sad times he had together with Haruka and Yuji. Yuji always acted as his older brother, while Haruka was a really close friend. Five years since then... Where did time go?

« Yeah... that was a long time ago... But as you can see, I am easily able to take care of myself now. The independence that I sought since such a long time... I have conditioned myself to attain it. But yes... I remember all those times. »

« Anyways... sorry again for the bite... »

« It's okay... you were not conscious when you did that to me... No need to apologize »

As they talked, Alex noticed a huge shadow looming over them. Thinking it might be some sort of cloud, he ignored it. Coming to think of it... The artificial sky wasn't set to simulate clouds today...
Haruka's expression was enough to say. Something big was behind them.
All the customers in the cafe seemed to have noticed as well.

« Alex! Look! » Haruka cried out while pointing to the window behind him.

Alex saw a huge metallic figure standing in the middle of the street. People were panicking and rushing around, trying to flee from the scene. Cars were trying to roll away from it, children were in awe while looking at this huge entity.
Alex decided to go outside to see what it was clearly. He had a small doubt, but when he saw the machine in its entirety, there was no mistake. It was an Armored Core.

« What the hell is an AC doing in a residential area? » Haruka asked Alex

« I have no idea, there's no military facility around here, and since I've moved here, there's never been a single conflict around here! »

The Armored Core was painted in blue and white colors. It sported mainly high quality Crest body parts with a mixture of Mirage and Crest weaponry. No emblem was painted on it. It looked down around it, it's mono-eye scanning the area and the civilians. Suddenly, the AC lifted it's head back up and was looking at something on the other side of the road that Alex couldn't see. The AC knelt down and armed its back-mounted grenade launcher.
This wasn't a good sign. The area was going to become a hot battle zone soon. Alex grabbed Haruka's hand and started leading her to someplace he knew was safe.

« Haruka, come with me! I'll get us to a shelter »

« O... Ok! »

Both tried to run away as fast as possible from the AC. It eventually fired it's grenade round, sending off a massive roar that thundered through Alex's and Haruka's ears. Counter fire quickly rained back on the AC though, and he had to activate his over-boost to escape the incoming shots. Missiles. As they missed their target, some hit the ground, sending off a massive shock-wave that threw both Alex and Haruka to the ground.
Alex was stunned, downed to the ground. He looked at Haruka to see if she was fine. She seemed in pain, and her eyes weren't opening.

« Haruka! Are you alright!? »

He quickly checked her to see if there was any injury. Nothing was visible.

« I'm fine... Just tired... I haven't drank the blood pack Yuji gave me yet... so I'm not feeling too well. »

« Damn, we don't have time for you being tired here! » Alex exclaimed as he put Haruka on his back.

Alex looked back to see what the AC was fighting. At first, it seemed as if the shots were coming out of nowhere, but then, he realized that the enemies were invisible. Stealth Muscle Tracers. Most probably they had infiltrated some area and retrieved information, planning to then escape unnoticed by this area.
He dashed through the streets, Haruka's weight on his back, racing to the nearby shelter. It was around a mile away. However, another tremor interrupted him and nearly made him lose his balance.
Another Armored Core landed next to him. This time, it was a dark red Mirage model. The previous blue AC seemed to spot him, and machine gun fire flew towards his direction. A second white AC quickly came next to the blue one and assisted him. The Red AC was put on the defensive, flying around the city trying to avoid the shots. He evaded them effortlessly, but he was unable to counter-fire. The barrage stopped when a bazooka round came in from nowhere and blasted off one of the white Crest AC's arms. Another dark Red Mirage model revealed itself, this time a much bulkier one.
The battle's intensity was reaching an apex. The machine gun fire sprayed around was destroying all the buildings, missed missiles were taking down houses and putting huge gaping holes in skyscrapers.
What was going on here? Alex did not know, but one thing was sure. He had to get the hell out of there.

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