A boy sat all alone in a corner. Slumped back against the wall, he seemed to be looking down at the floor, staring down at something. His hands were covering his ears, as if some incessant noise kept annoying him. He was clothed in an all white outfit that consisted of a sweater and pair of pants, much like every one of the test subjects in this research center.
Most of the other children in the same room did not pay attention to him. It was lunch time, and they were all given good food to eat. One girl observed the boy from afar, puzzled by his odd behaviour. She decided to leave her table and go see him closer.
Approaching him carefully, she sat next to him and asked: "Hey, are you okay? What's your name?" The boy seemed unresponsive. "Hey..." she said with a weak voice while touching him. The boy slowly lifted up his face. She could see that he was scared of something, and was struggling not to cry. "Hey... what's wrong? Come and eat... They prepared good food for us. It's the third time I see you skipping lunch. The doctors will scold you if you keep on doing that..." The boy looked carefully at the girl, as if dazzled for some time by her. He slowly observed thoroughly the entirety of her body. Long flowing silver hair, red eyes, a soft white skin, she wasn't like anything he had seen before. Not knowing what to say, he simply uttered timidly "eh... I'm not hungry".
Suddenly, he closed his eyes and covered his ears hardly again, biting his lips as if something was causing pain to him. "Are you hurt?" the girl asked with worried look. "No... but my head is aching, there's a voice in me head that's hurting me.." the boy replied while keeping the same position. "Oh... perhaps you should come and eat... that might make it go away." the girl answered, not really knowing what to say. "By the way, my name's Haruka... what's yours?" she continued. Upon hearing this question, the boy opened his eyes and stopped showing signs of pain, as if something had miraculously stopped his torment."Al... Alex..." slowly came out from his mouth. Haruka smiled said "Nice to meet you Alex. Come and eat!" on these words, she stood up and returned to her table. Alex stood up as well. This was the first time some other children asked for his name. And oddly, his pain seemed to have been alleviated. The voice was still there, but it was much less of a nuisance.
He looked around and saw the scientists and doctors monitoring the children in the room from the other side of a transparent glass wall. They seemed to be discussing about something, but he couldn't hear as not as these walls were soundproof, and the noises made by every single child in the dining hall would anyways cover up anything that would filter though.
The researchers on the other side of the wall were two of the top ranking officials in the facility. They were discussing on a test that they would conduct tomorrow.
"Doctor Yamato... Are you sure you want to perform such a trial?"
"Indeed... this is risky, I'll take it, and we're killing off a lot of subjects, but we will see who was truly able to take advantage of the NEO-PLUS system amongst all these ones here... Don't worry Setsuna."
"Very well then... They have already been trained for two months on how to operate an AC... and most of them, thanks to their NEO-UPGRADES have already mastered the basics... this will turn out very interesting."
"So, tomorrow then I guess."
On the next day, Alex woke up as usual in his room at 6:00 AM, waiting for the soldiers to come pick him up for AC training. In another room, Haruka had woken up as well and was waiting for the soldiers to come and pick her up. She was leaning and resting her head on a boy's shoulder. "Hey brother.. are you sure you are going to do this?" she whispered to him. "I've thought it over and over. This is our chance to escape now or never. The commands linked to the bombs on our ACs are linked to the command center... It's obvious, I managed to sneak in there myself. The security inside the research complex itself isn't very high... bunch of fools I might say. So if we blow the control center up, we might have a chance to escape. I've 'borrowed' this plan of the complex from one of the engineers. There's a sewer complex below the training grounds that we can access easily. We'll make our escape from there." he replied. "Ok Yuji... I'll be with you." Haruka said while holding him tight.
On Alex's side, the Kisaragi guards had already arrived. They were accompanying him to the AC hangar. As stoic and unemotional as always, they flanked him on the sides and did not even bother looking at him. One of them told him in a somewhat casual tone: "Boy, today's a special day. Remember everything you've learned until now. You'll need it". That was all he said. When they arrived at the AC hangar, the guards opened up the gate by inputting a code on the keypad that was next to it. They headed up to the AC ramp no. 98, the place where Alex's AC was. Every test subject's AC in here were the same, the only differences were the numbers that were labelled on them. These units were armed with the standard rifle and laser blade most basic Armored Cores had. A single tube missile launcher and a fairly standard radar were mounted as their back units.
Slowly, one by one, each AC apparently went to it's respective training room. However, this time, to everyone's surprise, the conveyor belts ferried the ACs to the same training room. Alex looked around, worried about the other ACs and wondering what on earth was happening. The loudspeakers in his cockpit suddenly lit up. A broadcast from the main command center came through:
"Today, is the day we see who's the best amongst you. The objective of today's training will be... to kill every other AC. Only the last three standing shall be kept. I repeat, only the last three remaining shall be kept... please being."
A chill went down Alex's spine. Killing everyone? How could he do that? His hands started trembling. He did not want to kill anyone. Yet, the voice inside his head kept whispering the same ongoing refrain: "Kill... Survive... Kill..."
On the opposite side of the arena, Haruka was there in her AC, equally terrified by the order that had been given to her. She was trying to reach her brother, who was in the AC right next to her. She was not using the radio broadcasts, but magically, it seemed as if she could speak to Yuji telepathically.
"Yuji! What are we going to do!?"
"Don't worry, we'll make it thought... we just need to stay together... wait for someone to make the first move, that's most probably the one that'll die first."
Alex was hearing the discussion as well. Upon hearing Haruka's voice, he recognized her immediately and called out her name: "Haruka? Is that you? How come can you speak in my head as well?"
Shocked by the intrusion in their discussion, Haruka and Yuji took some time to understand how someone else could communicate with them.
"Is that really you Alex?" Haruka called out to him.
"Yes, it's me!"
"Who is this Haruka?" Yuji asked, puzzled and worried about the new intruder.
"He's a friend of mine." Haruka replied gently.
"That makes... 3 people. Alright, Alex, listen carefully. We will watch each other's back. You're Haruka's friend, so you're on my 'not-to-kill' list. This makes 3 people who'll survive if everything goes according to the plan... So you're number 98 eh? I'm number 66. Haruka's number 77, looks like you've been the one rivalling me every time... nice to meet you."
Before they could keep communicating telepathically, one of the test subjects suddenly moved and lunged with his laser blade at Haruka. She proceeded to duck and counter slash him, effectively creating a huge gap into his AC's chest. Yuji moved in from behind and finished him with another blade slash. This single event started a deluge of blood lust from the various ACs in the arena. Laser blade swings and rifle shots could be heard all around, AC after AC was blowing up.
One decided to attack Alex with his rifle and missile launchers. Alex tried to dodge the shots while countering with his own weapons. He eventually managed to shoot out the enemy's rifle. The latter reeled back and it looked as if he was giving up. Alex turned his back to him, and the foe took the opportunity to make a laser blade strike at Alex. Just as the blade was about to impact the rear of his AC, Yuji came in and rammed the attacker, doing a full body slam on him with his AC. He then finished up by driving his laser blade right into the cockpit. Another test subject with a damaged AC wanted to try and kill two stones with one rock, and tried to back stab Yuji's AC, but Alex saved him by finishing off the damage AC with his missile launcher and rifle. In the long run, ACs fell one after the other, until eventually,Haruka, Alex and Yuji were now standing back to back, being the only test subjects remaining after the slaughter. All three were panting heavily, tired by the continuos stress that had been incurred upon their bodies.
"Haruka, get ready... Alex, I'm going to destroy the control center, you two then follow me, we'll get out of that place." Yuji communicated to his two allies telepathically.
The loudspeakers were blaring up, the scientists were about to proclaim something. But Yuji did not leave the time to. Activating his boosters at full power, he blasted his mech towards the control center.
"WHAT THE-" the scientists in there exclaimed.
They didn't have the time to finish their sentence as Yuji's AC drove his laser blade into the control center. Yet, it wasn't enough to pierce the thick armor that was separating him from the people inside it.
"Quick, detonate the bomb on that unit!"
It was time for plan B. Yuji quickly took out a hand held grenade launcher he had stored secretly in his AC's weapons hanger and pointed it at the command center.
"Where the hell did he get th-"
Before they could detonate the bomb on Yuji's unit, he shot a high-explosive grenade shot at point blank range at the already damaged barrier. The following explosion took out the entire command center.
Reloading for his second shot, he aimed at the one of the ventilation vents on the ground, and shot his second and last grenade round. The shot blew off the vents and revealed a large hole which led to some unknown sewers.
"Alex, Haruka, let's jump in there!"
The three friends jumped into the hole, headed for the unknown. In the Complex, it was total chaos. Officers here and there were sending orders to different units to try and capture the escaping test subjects.
Back down in the sewers, Yuji, Haruka and Alex were running away at full speed. They did not know where they were going, but they had to run. Now having set up a private communication channel between themselves, they could easily talk to each other without having the need to concentrate too much and use their telepathic abilities.
"Where are we going exactly?" Alex asked.
"Towards the Kisaragi/Mirage frontier" Yuji replied.
"How do you know that?" Alex asked all puzzled.
"Brother has gotten the information about this complex's sewer network." Haruka told Alex.
"Wait... That guy's your brother?" Alex said totally shocked.
"Yes. I am." Yuji said bluntly.
"What do you think we should do after that anyways?" Alex said after a quiet moment of reflexion.
"We'll find some way to live in the Mirage industrial area... I hear that they even have an orphanage there, we might get accepted. Kisaragi and Mirage aren't on good terms anyways, we might have a chance."
They were finally free, but the future seemed uncertain. Alex wondered what he should do. He had made two new friends. Haruka and Yuji seemed like very nice people. What was the future holding for him? His couldn't return to his parents, they were dead. Perhaps it would've been better if he accepted Haruka and Yuji as his new family. As he kept thinking, their ACs arrived to a certain area that looked like a junction.
"We have to leave our ACs here... we'll walk our way to the Kisaragi/Mirage border. They can still track our units with their sensors, so the best way to avoid being found again is just leave our ACs here. There shouldn't be any more high level waters ahead, so we should be able to walk our way out easily."
Alex opened up his Armored Core's cockpit. The putrid stench of the sewers filtered into his noses, and he quickly covered his nose to try and mask away that unpleasing scent. He looked as Yuji descended from his AC as well, wondering how he looked like. Yuji was about the same size as him, he had a slicked back haircut. His black hair was neither long, nor short. He had dark blue eyes, and a mysterious aura surrounded him. Haruka was sparkling even in this damp and fetid place, as if an angel amidst darkness... however, one thing scared Alex a bit. Her red eyes. They were beautiful, but at the same time, sent a chill down his spine. This redness sparkling in the dark was all but spooky if looked at from a certain angle.
"So, you're Haruka's friend... nice to meet you in person." Yuji said as he offered a handshake to Alex.
"Nice to meet you to" Alex replied while accepting the handshake.
Haruka simply smiled while she looked at the scene.
"We better get out of here." Alex said, remembering that they might have pursuers on their tails at any moment.
A a dozen of meters away, one man was watching them, camouflaged with the sewer's darkness. It was the Doctor Setsuna.
"Doctor Yamato, they made it safely. They're going towards the Kisaragi/Mirage border, shall I order the drones to stop them?"
"No. Let them be. Order the border guards to let them pass" the voice over his headphone responded.
As he heard the answer, Setsuna couldn't believe what he was hearing.
"Excuse me sir, could you repeat?"
"Let them go. I want to see... what will become of them. We will meet again, for sure. After all... once you've tasted the power of a Raven... it's hard not becoming one..."
"This is a huge gambit you're taking here sir..."
"Trust me, there are many things we don't understand about NEO-PLUS yet. With these 3 subjects living an ordinary life, we'll see what will happen of them. It's not as we can't monitor them anyways... we still have our 'contacts' in Mirage's forces. Isn't it right Setsuna?"
"Return to the complex now. We still have more business to take care of".
Back in the complex, Doctor Yamato looked at the information files concerning the three escapees.
Name: Alex Shiranui
Blood Type: O
NEO PLUS Operational Level: 90% (perhaps higher)
NEO PLUS Noted Side Effects: Possible Schizophrenia, Sometimes shows signs of an unstable psyche.
Name: Yuji Hikari
Blood Type: AB
NEO PLUS Operational Level: 80%
NEO PLUS Noted Side Effects: None
Name Haruka Hikari
Blood Type AB
NEO PLUS Operational Level: 95% (might be 100%, uncertain about this matter)
NEO PLUS Noted Side Effects: Many, canines have grown and the subject herself has many other physical morphologies that are yet to be fully discovered. Red eyes and coloration of the hair turning to silver.