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Fate, Reality and Other Misadventures (FRoM) - Part 2

     Elyssa blinked and settled into her seat, not really knowing why.
     Kimiko gave her a quick look. Poor girl. She heard the rumours. Mashima was competing with foreign companies to be the first to synchronize a human mind with a computer. If it worked, it would revolutionize how people interacted with machines. One of the most lethal aspects was increased pilot performance in mecha, a field Mashima was a world leader in. It was funny really, Kimiko thought. She saw some anime out there that predicted the same thing. "Evangelion" they called it. She didn't really watch anime though; it was for kids.
     "So, Elyssa, can you help me?" she asked sweetly.
     "I'd be happy to," Elyssa responded normally, not really sure of what she was saying. "I mean, you saved my life back there so I guess I owe you."
     Kimiko frowned. She'd protect the girl but deep down, she wondered if this kid could really be saved at all. ---

Post #14 [Dare wrote:]

     In a partitioned room of a warehouse, Weissman leaned back in his leather chair, feet perched comfortably on the oak desk. His eyes were shut and hands folded on his lap. He often liked taking these power naps; they rejuvenated him. However, his rest was cut short with the shrill tone ring of a digital phone. He picked the smallish unit off the table and pressed a button before putting it to his ear.
     "Yeah," he said simply, eyes still shut.
     "Boss," replied the voice on the other end. "I confirmed the information regarding Mashima's new robotics project."
     "Good," Weissman responded. "I want that fucking robot, got it?"
     "Mashima's security is extremely tight boss," the other end stated.
     "You fucking work in security," he hissed into the ueceiver. "What is it? You want some more shitload of money?" He sat up straight, leaning one elbow on the table. "You know, I don't like it when my employees complain about their pay. You know how it makes me feel? It makes me feel shitty. 'Cause I feel, 'I'm not looking out for you guys.' And if I feel shitty, I get fucking stressed. And when I get stressed, well, let's just you don't want to fucking see me. You hearing me?"
     A pause.
     "Uh, yeah, boss, security can be arranged." Weissman could hear the sweat dripping down the man's face. "I can have the perimeter down for a few moments for the team to get in."
     "Good," approved Weissman. "I like a man who thinks of his own solutions."
     "Uh, there's one other thing, boss." When Weissman didn't respond, he continued. "The thing can't be operated by anyone. It's specifically adapted for a certain person's neurological brain waves."
     Weissman rolled his eyeballs upwards. "So you're saying the goddamn thing needs a certain pilot?"
     "Yes, boss."
     "WELL, GO GET THE FUCKING PILOT!" he screamed into the phone. He cleared his throat. "I'm terribly sorry about that." His apology was dripping in sarcasm. His voice remained calm but forceful. "You see what happens when I get stressed? Now, please go get the pilot."
     "Yes boss," the other end confirmed.
     Weissman hung up the phone. God, what fucking idiots! he thought to himself. Once he got his hands on this new toy, he'd feel a lot better. And in a much more fun mood. Placing the phone back on the desk, he leaned back once more and resumed his nap. --- "Did you find her?" Tarsax asked worriedly. The ambush out of the restaurant lasted a few minutes before the gunmen gave up and ran. Lina Inverse tossed several fireballs and other spells, completely frightening the attackers. However, Elyssa Au Yeung was nowhere in sight.
     Lina Miyagami shook her head. "After I went down the alleyway, I found blood on the sidewalk. A distance away, I saw some tire marks. I'm guessing a car came and picked her up."
     Tarsax swore. "She's just a girl, damnit. How could a girl get into such a mess?"
     Lina shrugged and said, "I guess she's unlucky."
     "I suppose we should try and find her. Who knows what trouble she's gotten into."
     Tarsax shook his head in annoyance. It wasn't his job to protect kids. He wasn't a policeman, he was a soldier. He was given carefully designed orders and he followed them, to the letter. But if there was one thing that could screw it all up, it was civs. Civilians were an unknown parameter. You couldn't depend on them, you couldn't predict their actions. They were random variables strewn into the fray. Tarsax was a career soldier and he had that sort of reaction to civs. But somehow, he felt slightly responsible for Elyssa's misfortune.
     A voice cleared her throat and a figure emerged from the shadows of the alleyway. Her green hair and almond-shaped eyes made her stand out immediately. "I think I can help," she said. "My name is Samui." ---

Post #15 [Dot wrote:]

      "And how do you know about Elyssa?" Lina I. demanded.
     "That's none of your business," Samui answered.
     Tarsax frowned; a brick was easier to read than this person, and he didn't like that. "So you could be one of the people that tried to kill Elyssa."
     "Possibly," Samui agreed. "But if you don't come with me, you'll never find out." Before anyone could reply, Samui turned and left.
     "Do you think we can really trust her?" Lina M. asked after Samui had gone.
     "I wouldn't worry about her," said Kricket, stepping out from a nearby ally.
     Lina M. began to panic. Mildly.
     Kricket pointed to Lina Inverse. "That 9 billion dollar is mine, fugitive. You can't get away from me."
     Lina I. blinked, then turned red with anger. "Who are you calling a fugitive, you escapee from a horror story? Besides, that 9 billion is going to be mine!"
     Kricket shook his head. "I don't think so."
     "We'll see about that!" Lina I. began to chant.
     Gourry sweatdropped. "Ano...Lina...aren't you overreacting a little?"
     Lina kept chanting.
     Tarsax and Gourry backed away a few steps, as if that would make them any safer.
     The other Lina (the one mistaken for the person on the poster) decided that now would be a good time to sneak away. --- "I still can't believe we missed her," Trumpet remarked as he drove.
     "Shut up," Flute answered from the back seat, loading a semiautomatic handgun. He stuck a second one, as well as enough spare clips to shoot out the words to the Bill of Rights (or so it seemed), into his jacket. "I'm going to get her this time. You'll see."
     Trumpet snorted. "Sure you will. Just like you said last time."
     "Just drive, will you?"
     "Yeah, yeah."
     The car wove unsteadily in and out of the after- work traffic, earning rounds of frenzied beeping and cursing from the other cars. From the rearview mirror, Trumpet could catch glimpses of Flute assembling something. Something big. Something *really* big.
     "What?!?" Flute glared at Trumpet through the mirror.
     Trumpet decided that ignorance was bliss. "Um...never mind."
     After zooming around more cars, Trumpet finally caught a glimpse of the girl they were chasing after. "Hey, Flute. I think I see them."
     Carefully keeping one hand on the wheel, Trumpet pointed. "There."
     Flute began to roll down his window. "She's not getting away!"
     Something began to obscure Trumpet's right peripheral vision. Glancing out of the corner of his eye, Trumpet nearly facevaulted when he saw a rocket launcher.
     " aren't serious, are you?"
     "Damn right I'm serious! Pull up a little closer so I can get a clean shot at them!"
     One does not argue with a neurotic person wielding a rocket launcher; Trumpet pressed down on the accelerator and cut off car after car, steadily gaining on his target. --- Kimiko didn't like what she was seeing in her rear view mirror. There was a car behind her that was driving too aggressively for someone who was simply in hurry to get home.
     And then someone in the back seat of said car rolled down the window and stuck out a rocket launcher.
     "GET DOWN!" Kimiko screamed, driving onto shoulder of the highway as the person fired. The projectile hit the trunk of the car that had been in front of Kimiko's. The car exploded, sending shards of metal, glass, and burning material flying everywhere. Brakes squealed, people screamed, and car after car piled into one another as every driver tried to avoid getting blasted as well.
     "What happened?" Asked Elyssa from the floor of the car.
     "Some fucking idiot tried to take us out with a rocket launcher!" The car hit a patch of grass and swerved wildly. "Shit!"
     The other car had taken to the shoulder as well; the person with the rocket launcher had switched to a gun by now, and was shooting in Kimiko's general direction. Fortunately, since they were going so fast, and the other driver was having trouble keeping his (at least Kimiko assumed it was a he) car straight, none of the shots connected. Not with her car, at least. But the other car was gaining steadily.
     There was a loud "BOOM!" sound, and the car lurched to the right. Kimiko and Elyssa screamed as the car slid down the bank of the highway. --- (That car chase scene doesn't feel right somehow. But I liked the rocket launcher part, so it stays. :) --- "Don't even *think* about moving," one of the men commanded, throwing open the driver's side front door and brandishing his gun threateningly.
     "You can stop hiding now," added the other, whom Elyssa recognized as Flute, opening the driver's side rear door.
     'What a way to end summer vacation,' Elyssa thought glumly.
     Suddenly, a twig snapped in the distance. Both men tensed and turned slightly towards the source of the sound.
     "Who's there?!?" Flute demanded. A bush rustled somewhere; Flute fired several shots in that direction.
     "Calm down, Flute," the other said. "You're just overreacting."
     It was then that Elyssa noticed something.
     Flute saw Elyssa looking past him. "You can't fool me with that old trick!"
     "She just did," said a voice which Elyssa recognized as Samui's.
     To Elyssa, everything seemed to happen in slow motion.
     Flute whirled around and, seeing Samui charging towards him, fired wildly at her. Kimiko took advantage of this distraction by tackling the other fellow and wrestling him to the ground. Meanwhile, Samui had relieved Flute of his gun by tripping him with a leg sweep and punching him in the face, neither of which did much other than infuriate Flute even more.
     "Look out!" Cried Elyssa when she saw Flute reaching into his jacket.
     Hearing this, Kimiko paused briefly from grappling with her opponent to look. 'Crap! He's going after Elyssa!'
     Kimiko was about to call out a warning to Elyssa when she caught a flash of motion out of the corner of her eye.
      Elyssa nearly gasped: Samui had picked up Flute's gun and shot his hand the instant it came out of his jacket, causing him to drop his second gun.
     "Move and the next bullet goes through your head," Samui told Flute.
     "I'd rather die than fail Saxophone-sama!" Flute shouted, leaping at Samui.
     To everyone's surprise, Samui simply sidestepped him and slammed the butt of the gun she was holding into the back of Flute's head. With a muffled groan, Flute went down. Kimiko also gave her opponent one last, hard, well-placed hit, and knocked him out as well. Then, she grabbed her gun from the car.
     "Freeze," Kimiko commanded, pointing her gun at Samui.
     Samui spread her hands apart. "I'm on your side."
     Kimiko narrowed her eyes. "And how do I know for sure?"
     Samui turned to leave. "Think what you like."
     Elyssa noticed a line of red over Samui's brow. "You've been hurt!"
     Samui reached up and touched the place where Flute's bullet had grazed her. "It's just a scratch; I'll be fine." To Kimiko she said: "I suggest that you leave before the local authorities show up and complicate things; take the other car if yours is incapacitated."
     Kimiko's mind whirled as Samui walked away: on one hand, Kimiko couldn't figure out Samui's real intentions because she hid them so well, but on the other, Samui had saved her life as well as Elyssa's. And besides, Samui would probably be following them anyway, if she hadn't been already...
     "Wait!" Kimiko called.
     Samui stopped and looked back. "Yes?"
     Kimiko lowered her gun. "I've changed my mind: I trust you."
     "Thank you."
     Elyssa peered at the unconcious villains nervously. "Umm...shouldn't we get going soon?"
     Samui nodded. "You two go ahead; I'll catch up later."
     "What about you?" Kimiko wanted to know.
     Samui replied by taking out a strange object and throwing it against the ground. With a loud "POOF!", a motorcycle appeared.
      Meanwhile, the police began looking out for the people responsible for the horrible crash on the highway. ---

Post #16 [Dare wrote:]

     The flash of passing lampposts created a hypnotic effect on Elyssa. They had been driving for an hour and her eyelids were growing heavy. Within moments, they were closed shut and the dreams began.
     * * *
     Where am I?
     What is this?
     Smoke and fog surround me. What is it I cannot see?
     Light. Danger! Faster! Attack! Jump! Side! Shoot!
     What is going on? Who's there?
     Pound, pound, pound. What's that thumping sound?
     March, march, march. Shimmer.
     What are those! So many! Robots! Focus, inside. People! Inside the robots!
     Explosions and bursts of light. Fight, battle, rage, anger, kill.
     STOP! Stop the fighting! Stop it!
     Light. Dark. Kill.
     Stop it, please!
     People, faces... ME! NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!! * * * Elyssa's fluttered open. The air was stale and hot. The sky was red and dark with gray clouds. She blinked before rising to her feet.
     'Where am I?' The ground was littered with rubble and dirt. She walked a few steps before stepping on something. She picked it up. It was a ragged doll, dirty and broken.
     "It's the future."
     Elyssa spun around. A young woman faced her. She had fire-red hair and wore a long, waving cloak. Her grab was oddly rustic. The woman's calm face and easy posture relaxed Elyssa.
     "A possible future."
     "Who are you?" Elyssa asked.
     "I'm someone who watches dreams. They are my window to the real world."
     "But," Elyssa spread her arms, "this is a dream?"
     "For the moment, but dreams can become reality." The woman's face saddened. "You are set on a road to destruction. All this will happen to your world if you continue. You are at a crossroads and one way will lead to darkness and the other to light."
     Elyssa's chest tightened. "What do you mean?"
     "Here, let me show you." The woman waved her arm in the air. A shimmer and a small portion of the sky changed brightly. It was a sort of television screen, Elyssa decided, and it showed her images. Images that disturbed her.
     Images of Mishima Heavy Industries. A giant mechanized power-suit. Elyssa on a table with neural- probes attached to her head. She was placed inside the suit, the connection synchronizing her with the machine. The power-suit moved as she did, reacted as she did. There were tests. Weapons tests, motion tests, neural-link tests. Elyssa watching a screen of flashing random lights. Elyssa watching Elyssa watching herself become conditioned.
     "You are being used in an experiment for destruction," the woman remarked.
     "Are," she begun with a stammer, "are you saying Mishima is creating war machines to kill people?"
     The woman shook her head. "No and yes. They do it because they can. They don't understand the folly of their actions. The instruments of war that they create will be used in mass slaughter. It was never their intention but it will happen."
     Elyssa began to cry as images of death and killing flooded her mind. Her knees buckled and she slumped to the ground. "Please," she begged as tears streaked her cheek, "please make it stop."
     "I can't," the woman said firmly. "Only you can."
     "How?" she sobbed. "Why?"
     The woman cradled Elyssa's head in her arms. "Shh.." she soothed, "It's okay. I'll help you." A surge of energy flowed from her hands and into Elyssa's mind. The crying stopped and a mysterious fog inside her lifted. A perfect moment of clarity and Elyssa remembered it all. From the first day the experiment began to the conversation Kimiko had with Akiko in the car.
     "Help her," the woman said. "Help her to help you."
     "How?" Elyssa asked again.
     The woman smiled. "You'll figure it out. You always will."
     The scenary shimmered and everything faded away. * * * Elyssa's eyes opened, this time to the waking world. The night sky was still dark and the streetlights still illuminated the road. The car was pulling up to an apartment building.
     "Glad you got some rest," Kimiko said.
     "Where are we?"
     "My place. I need to get some stuff." Kimiko undid her seatbelt and opened the car door.
     "Wait," Elyssa said quickly. "I'll help."
     Kimiko sighed. "Yeah I know you'll help, you don't know why, but you will."
     "No," Elyssa shook her head. "I know why. Mishima."
     "What?" Kimiko shouted, wide-eyed. "How do you know?"
     "I was," she paused, "shown the truth."
     The woman grabbed her shoulders. "Who? How?"
     "Ow, let go!" she cried. Kimiko released her grip and apologized. "I don't know how it happened but while I slept, I dreamt of a woman who showed me."
     "'Dreamt'?" Kimiko repeated.
     "Yeah and she cleared my mind of the conditioning I was under," Elyssa continued.
     Kimiko ignored her for the moment. "Dreams," she said to herself. "Dream realm... Lyta! Ahlen!" She shook her head in disbelief. Staring up the night sky she whispered a silent thank you to her brother and Lyta.
     A puzzled expression crept across Elyssa's face. "So what do we do now? How are we going to find this Ono Miyagami?"
     "We're not," Kimiko said flatly.
     "What? But you told Akiko--"
     "That's what I wanted her to think. That Chobetsu is borrowing you to take down Ono Miyagami. Truth is we've got tabs on her and we can take her whenever please. No, you were to be bait for Mishima."
     "I don't understand," Elyssa confused. "I thought your government was being backed by Mishima."
     "We were," Kimiko confirmed in the past tense. "But word came out of the things they were doing in secret. One of them was your experiment. We can't allow such technology to be developed like this. Who knows what kinds of people could get their evil hands on it. And you. You were never a willing party to such tests. It's a damn infraction of your rights as a person! Neither I, nor my government, will allow such things to happen in this country."
     "I want to help," Elyssa said again, this time with conviction and strength. "I want to help stop this."
     Kimiko smiled. "Good, I believe you now. C'mon, help me get some stuff." She paused and grinned. "You know, this is probably going to get you fired."
     Elyssa shrugged. "The job wasn't fun anyway. I really wanted to interact with more people instead of a pushy office job."
     "More people huh? Go work in a bar or something."
     "Y'know, maybe I will."
     As they rode the elevator up to Kimiko's apartment, a concern popped into Elyssa's mind. "Uh, we're not taking down Mishima, are we?"
     "God, no! I may be opposed to their projects, but I'm not stupid! No, we're just going to destroy their facilities for this experiment only."
     "Er, won't we need help?" Elyssa cast a worried look.
     Kimiko tapped a finger on her lip. "Indeed." ---

Post #17 [Dot wrote:]

     "Perhaps I can be of service," Samui offered, suddenly appearing behind them.
     "Gah!" Elyssa nearly suffered a heart attack. "Do you always sneak up on people like that?"
     "Sorry. Force of habit." Was that a hint of amusement in Samui's voice? "Anyway, your interests more or less coincide with mine, so I think it would be profitable for both of us if we worked together."
     "Well..." Kimiko still couldn't figure out what Samui was about, but she decided to trust her instincts, which told her that Samui was sincerely on her side. "It's a deal."
     "Where did you go, anyways?" Elyssa asked as the three walked up to Kimiko's apartment.
     "Just a few things to secure my income."
     Kimiko raised an eyebrow. "You mean you're not being paid for this?"
     "I'm supposed to be, but I have no idea who is reimbursing me. As far as I know, everything I've done so far was 'pro bono'."
     "So why are you helping me?"
     "Because I don't want to see Mishima come out with those mechs any more than you two do, and I always keep my promises."
     Kimiko wondered briefly what that meant before wondering out loud: "Do you have any plans?"
     Samui shook her head. "Not really. I was just going to walk in, take a look, and then think of something from there."
     "Mishima is a pretty big time industry, Samui," Elyssa pointed out. "They're not just going to let you into their most top secret development area."
     Kimiko yawned. "Sorry, but I'm not going anywhere else until I get some sleep." She unlocked the door. "Why don't you guys stay here for the night, too?" --- "I swear, Lina Inverse," Tarsax growled as he unlocked the door to his apartment. "I am never gonna go anywhere with you any more."
     "Shut up," Lina I. muttered gloomily. "It wasn't *my* fault that stupid mummy guy decided to show up."
     "Well, you didn't have to blow up half the block with your magical spells!"
     "He deserved it! He was lucky I didn't want to kill him!"
     "Yeah, whatever." Tarsax flopped down on the couch. "Thanks to you, we've lost the other Lina, too."
     "THAT WASN'T MY FAULT, EITHER!" Lina all but roared, looking like she was ready to dole out some serious pain at any moment.
     "Lina, it wouldn't be nice to hurt someone who's paid for you dinner," Gourry pointed out. "Besides, don't you have some sort of spell that can find them?"
     This immeadiately stopped Lina in her tracks. "Ano..." She snapped her fingers. "Of course! Why didn't I think of that earlier!"
     Tarsax and Gourry only looked at one another and sighed. --- At the bottom of a crater in the middle of the street where Lina Inverse had unleashed one of her spells, a charred, fog-encased object staggered shakily to its feet.
     "Lina haven't seen the last of me..."
     The object took a few steps forward before deciding that it needed some rest first; it collapsed again, and in a few moments one could hear a soft snoring sound coming from the rags. --- "Attention all units! Attention all units!"
     "Turn that off, will ya?" Flute ordered irritably, dumping one of the unconcious officers into the trunk of the police car.
     "But what if they call for this car?"
     "NOW!" Flute punctuated his command by slamming the trunk shut.
     "All right, all right..." Trumpet reached over and turned off the CB.
     Swearing angrily, Flute stomped into the car and started the engine. Lights shining and horn blaring, it tore down the highway.
     "Where are we going?"
     "To find that girl, idiot!"
     "I know that, you know where to look?"
     "D'OH!" --- Somewhere within the bowels of Capow, a phone started ringing.
     Weissman picked it up. "This had better be good."
     "The team is ready, sir."
     Weissman smiled. "Excellent. Begin the operation."
     "Yes, sir."
     Hanging up, Weissman cracked his knuckles giddily. "Papa's gonna get a new toy..."
      This was _not_ a good tine to be responsible for the fate of the world.
     {Closing theme: "It's the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine)"} ---

Post #18 [Dare wrote:]

     Mishima Heavy Industries had several large factories and proving grounds located in Tokyo. However, when it came to secret R&D and weapons, they needed a more secluded locale. A small patch of land located sixty kilometers north of the city was the perfect spot. It was fenced in, accessed only by a dirt road, secluded by small mountain ranges. The facilities had its own power station, removing the need for outside wires.
     The small car carrying Kimiko, Samui and Elyssa speeded along the main highway. Elyssa was asleep in the back seat while Samui rode shotgun.
     "An hour's rest is not very suffcient," observed Samui.
     "I know but we don't have time to sleep. Besides, Elyssa's still napping and I can do without the sleep. Can't you?"
     Samui chose not to answer. Instead, she asked, "What is the plan, then?"
     Kimiko reached into her jacket and pulled out a CD. "This CD contains a powerful virus created by our software department. It's got a complex algorithm and is extremely new. Mishima shouldn't be able to detect it and even if they do, they can't stop it. Our first task is to wipe the memory core of the mainframe. The data they've gathered on their weapon must not remain."
     "Such a powerful virus could be very harmful if it were released into the real world," Samui noted.
     "The testing facilities are independent. Meaning there are no communication or power lines running to the base."
     Samui nodded.
     "Second, I can't allow the hardware to survive either. If I can reach the reactor, I'll jam the control rods and everything else is history."
     "That would cause a lot of needless destruction and death."
     "Do you have a better idea?"
     "I'm sure I can find some powerful explosives for use. It will be more contained and more efficient. A large reactor blast would cause major destruction, but could we be sure it destroyed what really needed to be destroyed?"
     "I see your point," conceded Kimiko. "I wasn't prepared to use explosives. I'm not good with them."
     "Let me handle that, then."
     Kimiko paused for a moment. Samui was still an unknown to her. She felt she could trust her, but what if she was wrong? This was an important task. On the other hand, Samui's points about targetting specific things would be more effective. Besides, she could help Samui and watch at the same time.
     "Okay," she agreed.
     They remained silent for the rest of the trip. The car turned onto a small dirt road and Kimiko flipped the headlights off to avoid being spotted. They were twenty minutes away. * * * About ten minutes behind them, another car zipped by. Flute drove behind the wheel of the stolen police cruiser. Trumpet observed a moving dot on a tracking device while speaking on a cell phone.
     "Hai, Saxophone-sama, we've got her on the GPS," he said into the phone. "We put the tracking device on during the fight out of the restaurant. She never found it." A pause. "No! No, we won't fail! Yes I know the consequences! Trust us, Saxophone-sama." He relaxed slightly. "Er, yes, we can have one brought back." He switched the phone off after a second.
     "Where the hell are we going?" Flute asked impatiently. Driving on a lonely road in the middle of the night was one thing he hated.
     "I dunno," Trumpet reported, "it's all open space out here. Just follow the dot."
     Flute sighed. "What did Saxophone-sama want us to bring back?"
     "A box of rice cakes."
     Flute sweatdropped.
     In the backseat of the police cruiser, Ono Miyagami smiled to herself. Wherever she was going, she'd be there to find this look-alike and finish her off once and for all. * * * The security system at the Mishima testing grounds outside of Tokyo was quite complex. The perimeter fence was monitored by a electromagnetic pulse. Any disturbance in the pulse was immediately alerted by security computers. Proper countermeasures were then taken into place.
     The system, however, could be shut down. The security shut down keys were deployed to two men overlooking security. It was similar to missile launch keys on a submarine. Both keys were given to the captain and the executive officer and both were required to launch. It meant that an unauthorized missile could not be launched easily, unless both the captain and the XO were planning it.
     As it was, both men who held the key to the security shutdown at the Mishima testing grounds were "planning it".
     "He should be at the gate now," said the first.
     "Okay, ready then." The two men took similar keys from their pockets and placed them into the locks which were located across the room from each other. Synchronized, they turned their keys and the security began its shutdown process. Within minutes, the EMP grid was deactivated and all security lines were disabled.
     The two men nodded to each other and gathered their automatic weapons. They left the room quickly. A bloody pool was gathering underneath one of the consoles. * * * It looked to be another ordinary night, the guard at sentry post decided. Nobody ever came, it made his job easier that way.
     He perched his feet by the desk and read the Tokyo Daily newspaper, stifling a yawn. A crackling noise caught his attention. He sat up straight and listened carefully. No sound. He peered out the window to his post.
     "Oi! Yoshi! Did you hear something?" No response. "Yoshi? You there?"
     A man stepped in front of the window. He was tall with brown hair. A gaijin. His face was all planes and eyes sharp. In his hand, he held a .45.
     "Konban wa," he said in poor japanese.
     The guard slammed his hand on the security alert button. The appropriate sirens did not respond, however.
     Weissman frowned. "Why the fuck you do that for?" He pulled the trigger and emptied four rounds in the sentry. Stepping under the entrance post, he and his men began the walk into the testing grounds. * * * Elsewhere, Lina Inverse, Gourry and Tarsax Nemoir had gathered outside the apartment complex known as Uchwan.
     "Isn't this Elyssa's apartment?" Tarsax asked.
     "Doesn't matter to me. I just want that other Lina and the reward." Lina Inverse rolled up her sleeves and began to cast a spell. Tarsax scrambled onto the small sorceress.
     "What do you think you're doing?!"
     "Going after her!" Lina answered back, trying to get her arms free.
     "Uh uh! You're not blowing up anymore buildings! Especially Elyssa's home! It's bad enough we got her thrown out of her old place."
     "'WE?'" Lina repeated. "It was your tank."
     Tarsax growled. "You were the one who sent it into a low-earth orbit!"
     Then Lina Inverse did something unexpected. Something she rarely did because she hated doing it. She compromised. "Fine," she muttered with crossed arms. "We'll go in there quietly and get her. Gourry, you lead the way."
     "Right! In case there's any traps or monsters, I'll clear them out, Lina!"
     "Gourry, this is an apartment building. There are no monsters or traps."
     "Uh, then why do I have to go first?"
     Lina Inverse shrugged. "I dunno, force of habit. Now move!!" * * * A rolling fog rolled in a few yards away from the motley group. Kricket laughed. "hahaha-ack! -cough- - cough- So good of you to lead me to her, Lina Inverse." He wrapped a cloak around his body and began his sneak. The fog wasn't helping much though. * * * "Hey, Lina," Saphiros muttered in the dark.
     "Uh?" Lina Miyagami responded in her sleep state.
     "Hey, are you awake?" Saphiros persisted. "Hey!"
     "WHAT?!" screamed Lina, bolting upright in her bed. "I was sleeping! This had better be good!"
     Lina felt Saphiros grin in the dark. "I think we have company," he noted. ---

Post #19 [Damien Roc wrote:]

     Lina narrowed her eyes as the large form entered the apartment in a manner that, if one was deaf and blind, might be considered quiet and inobtrusive.
     -Now, I am really getting sick and tired of this.- she thought as she materialized her dagger. - Can't I even have ONE NIGHT of peace and quiet?-
     She dove forward, striking down at the intruder. Her strike was deflected with a "clang."
     "Umm... Lina, she attacked me. Is that supposed to happen?" the intruder said in a somewhat familier voice.
     "WHAT? Attacked. I'll toast that li... mph! ermph!" the second voice, also somewhat familier, was muffled rather quickly.
     The lights came on as Sephiros flipped the switch. Lina blinked and recognized the intruder as Gourry Gabriev. "Oh, geez," she sighed, turning around. "It's just you guys... again."
     Tarsax Nemoir stepped around the fair-haired swordsman, an angry Lina Inverse being a very unwilling package in his arms. "Mind if I set this down somewhere?"
     Lina Miyagami and Sephiros exchanged glances. "Yes," they said in unison.
     "So," Lina flopped down on a chair, but didn't offer the visitors a seat. "What's up? I'm kinda tired, so make it quick."
     "We were just going to take you in and get the rew... OW!!!" Gourry started hopping about on one foot as Tarsax deftly slammed a heel into his shin.
     "Actually, I was wondering if you'd see Elyssa anywhere recently?" *** And Damien Roc started slamming his head against the keyboard as he strained to remember WHERE these intrepid heroes (question: are all heroes intrepid? WTF is intrepid, anyway, and why is it always the heroes, and not the villians, that are intrepid?) had last seen the thread's resident military experiment.
     Then he decided that if continuity was seriously screwed up, someone would notify him. So he continued typing. *** "That was weird," Lina commented.
     "It's an RL thing," Damien said.
     "Who said that?" asked Gourry. Everyone ignored him.
     "Not for a while, why?" she responded to Tarsax' question.
     The tank pilot managed to look thoughtful with the still truggling, barely adolescent-bodied...
     Lina Inverse Dragon Slaved the author
     ... sorceress in his arms. "Can't pin anything down exactly, but something's making me feel uncomfortable."
     "Well, we could search for her... again," Sephiros offered.
     Thirty minutes later, after a brief pondering of the hacking, coughing and bumping patch of fog beside the next door down and a decision on how to split up, and some actual searching, Tarsax found himself in an odd situation.
     "Note to self," he noted to himself "Travelling and 400 kph is not helpful in developed regions." An attempt to dodge past a public transportation unit (bus) had caused him to careen into the outer perimeter fence of Mishima Heavy Industries.
     "Odd... There don't seem to be any alarms." ---

Post #20 [Dot wrote:]

     "It's quiet," noted Kimiko as she drove up the gates of the research facility. Everything looked normal--the bar was down, the guard booth was lit, and the "Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted To The Fullest Extent Of The Law" sign well visible--but something felt terribly and horribly wrong.
     "Too quiet," agreed Samui, getting out of the car as it stopped. She walked up to the guard booth, then knocked on the window. Getting no response, she peeked in. "You'd better come and take a look at this, Kimiko-san."
     Both Kimiko and Elyssa went up to the guard booth.
     "My God..." Elyssa whispered when she saw what had happened to the guard.
     Kimiko bent down and touched the guard's body. "He hasn't been dead very long. Whoever killed him probably passed through here no more than two or three hours ago."
     "Are they still here?" Elyssa asked in a very small voice.
     Samui shook her head. "They probably took what they were looking for and left."
     Kimiko's eyes widened. " don't think--"
     Samui nodded gravely. "There's only one way to find out."
      The hangar where the mech was supposed to be was empty save the dead bodies that lay there.
     "Oh, no..." whispered Elyssa.
     Kimiko was equally shaken at the lack of a giant robot in the room, but she forced herself to remain calm and walked up to the computer. "Let's worry about one thing at a time." She began typing away at the keyboard; a few moments later, a slot opened up in the side of the console and Kimiko entered the CD. "There. Now, the next time anyone opens these files, they'll be in for a nasty surprise!"
     Samui tapped her chin. "What about backup files?"
     Kimiko shook her head. "Mishima wouldn't keep such incriminating evidence...but it would be safer to check." She began typing a new set of instructions.
     "Password, huh? Hmm..."
     Elyssa looked puzzled. "'Nukunuku'?"
     Kimiko shrugged. "Call it a hunch."
     {Please wait...}
     After the hourglass icon disappeared, another slot in the machine opened andout popped a small CD.
     "So much for the backup files," Kimiko remarked, throwing thedisk to the ground and bringing her foot down on it, twisting her heel so that the disk was more or less rendered completely useless.
     Samui eyed the broken CD. "I suppose it's safe to assume that your agency doesn't intend to prosecute."
     At this moment, they heard the unmistakable noise of a large tank attempting to shuffle through the door.
     Elyssa turned. "Tarsax? What are you doing here?"
     Tarsax grinned. "That's what I'd like to know, Elyssa. We've been looking for you for hours!" --- The police cruiser, instead of stopping, crashed right through the gates.
     "Oh, real smart, Flute," Trumpet observed. "Why don't you attract the attention of every guard in the area?"
     Flute simply ignored Trumpet and kept driving. Moments later, the cruiser pulled up to the building which the GPS indicated that Elyssa was in.
     "You ready?" Asked Flute, loading a clip into his gun.
     "As ready as I'll ever be."
     With that, the two got out of the car and headed in.
      Meanwhile, Ono Miyagami remembered that the rear doors of police cars can't open from the inside.
     "ARGH!" She screamed, punching the door handle in frustration. Then, hearing something, she cocked her ear towards the trunk. "Just what *is* that thumping noise, anyways?" --- Lina Miyagami let out a long-suffering sigh. "Don't you ever give up?"
     "Never," growled Kricket. "9 billion dollars is a very good motivation, you know."
     Lina M. sighed again, and then her eyes lit up as she got an idea. "Has it ever occurred to you that I might not be the person on the poster?"
     "Sure. That's what they all say."
     Lina M. sighed for the third time. When would she ever be able to get rid of this joker? --- Almost at the same time, Samui regarded the two 'newcomers' coolly. "Don't you two ever give up?"
     (The others listening were suddenly seized with a strange sense of deja vu.)
     The man on the left sneered and cocked his gun. "Damn right I don't."
     The other man, turning a little green at the sight of the dead bodies, said nothing.
     "Well, in that case," Samui answered, shrugging. "We'll all die together."
     Now the first man blanched a bit. "What?"
     "I arranged a little 'accident' on the reactor core. The entire place will blow up in less than ten minutes."
     Everyone stared at Samui, but her face remained expressionless.
     "Um...Flute?" The second man, still slightly green, piped up. "I think she really means it."
     Flute began to inch backwards. "Don't think you've gotten away."
     The two left, and as soon as they thought they were out of sight, they ran as fast as they could.
     "Uh..." Tarsax turned to Samui. "That wasn't true...was it?"
     Samui replied by walking out of the room as well. "Let's leave before they find out they were tricked, shall we?"
     "But what about this factory?" Elyssa asked.
     Samui kept walking."They can't make any more mechs with it. There's no need to make a crater out of it." --- "Um...Flute?"
     "Now what?!?"
     "It's been ten minutes already."
     "So?" A pause. "D'OH!" --- Kimiko drove the car, Samui rode shotgun, and Elyssa rode in the back, while Tarsax drove along the car in his mech.
     "All those people..." murmured Samui, gazing out the window but not really paying any attention to the passing scenery.
     Kimiko 'tsk'-ed and shook her head. "You sound like you've never seen anyone die before."
     "I have." Had Kimiko been looking, she might have seen sadness briefly pass through Samui's eyes. "It began when I killed for the first--and last--time. I'll never forget the look on that man's face, begging and pleading for mercy even as I sent the bullet through his head." Samui continued to stare at nothing in particular. "I saw much more death after that, but I've never gotten used to it."
     "You coulda fooled me."
     Kimiko looked into the rearview mirror. "Aw, crud. Not again."
     Samui began rolling down the window. "Don't worry, I'll take care of them."
     Out of the corner of her eye, Kimiko saw Samui climbing out of the window. "What in the world are you doing?!?"
     "Just keep driving," Samui answered above the wind that was roaring through. --- Samui kept a strong grip on the car as she pulled herself to the roof.
     'Steady now,' she reminded herself. 'I've never had to do this at such a speed before...'
     Looking at the speed of the road which zoomed under her, as well as the speed at which the other car was catching up, Samui made a quick estimate of the distance between the cars.
     'All goes nothing!' --- "GYAA!" Flute and Trumpet screamed in unison (perfectly harmonized) when the green-haired terror landed on the front window of the cruiser.
     Flute was the first to recover. "What are you cringing there for, idiot? Shoot her!"
     "R-right." Fumbling to reach the gun with his right hand, Trumpet began rolling down the window with his left. Almost as soon as he stuck the gun out the window, though, the green-haired terror grabbed it and turned it on the people in the car.
     "I hope I won't have to ask you twice to pull over," the green-haired terror said, unlatching the safety on the gun.
     Flute complied. --- The passengers of the other car (and one tank driver) were completely speechless.
     'Dang...what else does this girl know how to do?' Tarsax wondered.
     Kimiko finally spoke. "Hey, Elyssa."
     "Huh?" Answered the girl.
     "Could you roll the window back up? It's getting a bit drafty in here." --- The car came to a stop at the side of the road.
     "Out of the car," Samui ordered, waving the gun. "And take the keys with you." As the two obeyed, Samui caught sight of a bit of motion from the back. "Open the rear door, too." The door opened, revealing a woman who looked almost exactly like Elyssa, save the angry, treacherous expression on her face. "Hello, Miyagami. I would greet you more politely, but you have caused me quite a bit of trouble."
     "I'm *so* sorry." The tone in Ono's voice was exactly the opposite of her apology.
     Samui didn't take the bait. "As for you two gentlemen--and I use the term very loosely--I only have one question to ask: how did you know where Elyssa was?"
     "You can't make me say anything!" The one which had been addressed as 'Flute' said defiantly. "You're not even a police officer!"
     As soon as he said that, loud frenzied banging started to come from the trunk.
     Samui slightly raised an eyebrow. "Mind throwing me the keys?"
     Two very relieved policemen crawled out of the now open trunk of the car. "Thank God!" One of them exclaimed. "I don't know how much longer we could have lasted in there!"
     Samui nodded. "Save your thanks for later, officer." She turned back to Flute. "Well?"
     Flute's shoulders slumped in defeat. "We planted a signal on her so that we could use the GPS to find her."
     "That wasn't too difficult, was it?" Samui handed the gun to one of the officers. "They're all yours, sir."
     Kimiko, who had also pulled off the side of the road, walked up to Samui. "I thought you didn't like killing people."
     "I don't. But you'd be surprised at how much I can accomplish with the mere *threat* of force." Samui headed towards the road. "No one likes to die." Before she re-entered the car that Kimiko was driving, she stopped. "Oh, and before I forget: they caught up with us so easily because some sort of tracking device was planted on Elyssa. If I were you, I'd find it and get rid of it quickly." --- The group was on the road again.
     "So..." Elyssa began uncertainly. "Now what?"
     "Nothing," answered Kimiko. "Whoever took the robot can't do anything without you. So all we need to do is keep you safe."
     "Actually," cut in Samui. "I'd like to have some breakfast. How about we stop by at the Lurker's Retreat and grab a bite?"
     "That sounds good," agreed Elyssa. "Kimiko?"
     Kimiko shrugged. "Sure. Why not?" ---

Post #21 [Dare wrote:]

     Three vans entered Kimiko's rear-view window. They were coming up fast, one in front of the other two. The two behind straddled both lanes of the road.
     "We've got company," she announced and slammed hard on the accelerator. *** "That's them ahead?" Weissman asked the driver in the first van.
     "Yah, I saw them leave the base."
     "And you sure that bitch Elyssa Au Yeung is with them?"
     Weissman grinned. "Good, ram them off the fucking road." ** * "I'm not shaking them," Kimiko relayed. "Shit, Samui! Wanna try jumping out again?"
     "No thanks, I've had enough of that fun," Samui declined.
     Outside, Tarsax was already taking shots at the other cars while keeping a respectful distance from their pursuers.
     Kimiko pulled out her gun and handed it to Samui. "Here use this," she offered. Samui took the weapon and did likewise from the front window.
     The van swerved back and forth, avoiding the bullets as best it could. Tarsax managed to ping off one of the side mirrors while Samui cracked the window. Unfortunately, they kept coming.
     A sharp turn ahead caused Kimiko to decelerate slightly. She swore as the vans behind them did not and now gained distance. She spotted the side door open and a man brandishing an automatic rifle take aim.
     "Shit!" she swore, swerving the car away from the gunfire. Elyssa screamed and ducked under the seat, hands protecting her head.
     The van made a move to come up beside them. Kimiko swerved the car left. The van accelerated hard and slammed into their rear bumper. Tarsax tried to dislodge the van by ramming it, with no effect. Kimiko prayed the bumpers didn't lock and hit the gas, disregarding the next turn's sharpness. "Hang on!" she yelled as the occupants shifted violently. As the car straightened out, she checked the mirrors again. They were still with them.
     The gunman fired at them once more. Kimiko moved the car out of range but not before a bullet cracked the rear window. It distorted her view. The van tried to come up again and she swerved back to block them. Instead, it left an opening for the second van. Its side door opened as they edged nearer. "Everyone get down!" Samui yelled as the second van's gunman opened fire. Bullets strafed through the car, cracking the windows. Tarsax dropped back a bit so that he was out of range and fired, catching the man squarely in the chest. He flew back into the van. The first van rammed the car once more, lurching violently. Kimiko lost control momentarily. The passenger in the first van opened fire, puncturing the tires. The car spun wildly out of control, crashing into Tarsax and flying to the guard rail. Kimiko barely had time to feel the impact before her world blacked out completely. *** Elyssa felt warm hands cradle her chin. Her eyes fluttered open to find a man. He had a emotionless expression, face was all sharp planes and angles. His eyes, however, spoke of evil. The glint in them terrified her.
     "Welcome back," the man sneered, still holding her chin. He spoke in english. "Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Weissman. Heard of me?"
     Elyssa shook with fear and clamped her mouth shut.
     His face hardened. "Answer me, bitch!" He slapped her face hard. Elyssa's neck snapped back in recoil and she sobbed as the pain stung her cheek. "I know you can understand me, I read your fucking profile."
     "Don't say anything," Elyssa heard a voice say in cantonese. She looked back to find Kimiko, Tarsax and Samui crouched on the floor. Three men had guns pointed at their heads. Tarsax and Samui were still unconscious. One man held up Kimiko.
     Weissman spoke. "What the fuck did she say!" He grabbed Elyssa hair, she continued sobbing. "Look, bitch. All I want is to learn how to operate that machine!" He pointed to the power-suit mecha that stood in the corner of the large warehouse. Several men were casually inpspecting it but it was clear nobody could get into it.
     Elyssa remained silent.
     Weissman let out a hot breath of air and nodded to the men holding Kimiko. One man delivered a solid punch to her stomach. Kimiko doubled over and slumped to the ground, writhing in pain. Elyssa's face turned to shock.
     "That's right, Elyssa," Weissman said, "if you don't tell me how to use that thing, your friends are going to die." He nodded once more and the man released the saftey to his automatic weapon.
     "No! Please!" Elyssa screamed. "I'll help. Let them go."
     Weissman smacked her again. "I'm giving the orders around here! Now do it!" The man holding her shoved her roughly to the mecha. She tried to strain her head back and see if her friends were okay but the man held her tightly.
     She felt Weissman approach, dragging a wounded Kimiko with him. He had a gun to her head. "Open it, or I blow her fucking brains all over you."
     Elyssa didn't hestitate. Sniffling, she reached to the front panel of the mecha. It opened to reveal two probes. She attached them to her head where the machine would scan her brainwave pattern to accept pilot entry.
     "No tricks," he growled, tightening his grip on Kimiko.
     The agent lifted her head. "Don't do it, Elyssa," she breathed weakly.
     "I'm sorry," she sobbed, and sent the activation sequence.
     Air vents released suddenly and the mecha's front panel opened. Inside was a chamber that had no illumination or display panels. Instead, a ring-like probe protruded from the top. The seat was molded to sit the pilot comfortably. Sensor alcoves were located at the hands and feet of the seat.
     Elyssa climbed into the mecha and attached the ring to her head. She slid her hands and feet into the alcoves. The front panel closed tightly with a mechanical sound. Elyssa activated the start-up sequence.
     Her eyes and vision blurred. Brightly coloured lights appeared out of darkness and flew past her like a roller-coaster ride. A bright flash ended the sequence and her vision was restored. Her vision was sharper and the bodies in the room gave off heat signatures. Gauges were placed at the side of vision to provide information on the mecha's operational status. The first thing she did was arm the master weapons and ready them.
     Two gauss miniguns emerged from the arm panels of the mecha. A pulse canon flipped up top from her back panel and sat on her shoulder. Wherever she looked, the canon would swivel as well.
     "Wait!" Weissman shouted as the tension in the room rose ten times once the weapons emerged. "Power down now!" He put an arm around Kimiko's neck. "Fucking do it now or she's dead!"
     Elyssa felt herself grin. Mentally she activated the loudspeaker so she could communicate. "No," she said slowly. "No! This machine of destruction wasn't meant for you or for anyone! My friends, they all know the risks; dying is part of their job. If I have to sacrifice them so that I can save the world from this mechanical menace," She took a breath and screamed out in resigned fate, "SO BE IT!"
     Kimiko lifted her head slowly and whispered, "Elyssa.." *** "FUCK! BLOW IT!" Weissman screamed.
     "What do we do about them?" one of the men holding Tarsax and Samui asked.
     "Kill 'em!"
     The man stepped back and took aim at Samui's head. Before he could pull the trigger, she leapt at his feet and hauled him down. Tarsax also emerged from his false state of unconsciousness to grapple with the man guarding him. He locked both of arms and using his knee, delivered a blow to the stomach. The man hunched over, setting Tarsax up for a mean uppercut. The man crashed back against the wall, out cold. Picking up the gun, he trained it on the man attacking Samui. However, before he could shoot, the green-haired woman delivered a mid-chest kick to her attacker.
     Kimiko used the momentary confusion to make her move as well. She slipped from Weissman's grasp and rapidly jabbed him in the abdomen. Weissman stepped back quickly, clutching his side. Kimiko stepped into to punch his face but he side-stepped that quickly and grabbed her arm. He tried breaking it but Kimiko manouvered herself around to get free. Weissman pulled her other arm, pulling her close to him. He smashed his forehead against her face hard. Kimiko fell to the ground dazed. Weissman took aim and readied the trigger when he spotted Tarsax from the corner of his eye. The grav-tank pilot fired immediately, forcing Weissman to take cover. He took out his other gun while hiding behind a pile of boxes. A pause in gunfire gave him the chance to return his own. Both guns blazed towards Tarsax's position. Tarsax spun back to cover, narrowly avoiding the bullets. Kimiko had gotten up and was retreating to cover as well. Weissman kept one gun firing at Tarsax while the other fired at Kimiko. She dove for cover but the bullet caught her leg. She screamed.
     "Kimiko-san!" Samui cried and rushed to her side. She grabbed Kimiko under her arms and hauled her back to safety. "Are you okay?"
     Kimiko checked her leg. Blood trickled down her pants from the wound above her knee. She ripped her sleeve hard and tied the fabric around her thigh. "I think the bullet passed through," she winced.
     Meanwhile, Weissman's men had taken up arms against Elyssa inside the mecha power-suit. Automatic fire and shotgun shells glanced off its thick armor. Weissman reached into a crate and pulled out a stinger. Pulling apart the casing, he primed the rocket, aimed and fired. The explosion rocked Elyssa's mecha, causing it to stumble back slightly. However, she held her ground.
     Infuriated, Elyssa checked her weaponry. Selecting the pulse cannon, she let fly a blast at Weissman's general direction. An electric coil fired, slamming into several men. A few around them fell as well. Weissman ducked out of the way. *** "We've got to save Elyssa," Kimiko spoke. They were about to emerge from their cover when Elyssa switched on the comm channel. Her voice carried over an internal speaker. "I'm ending this now!" she said harshly. "This machine has to be destroyed. I'm setting the self-destruct sequence."
     "No!" Kimiko cried, rising out to the open. "BAKA! You'll die!"
     "It has to be destroyed," Elyssa said gravely. "The bombs you had in mind aren't powerful enough to disable this thing. I know how it works and how to destroy it. It has to be done internally. Goodbye Kimiko. Goodbye Samui. Thanks for your help." The speaker went silent.
     "Elyssa!" Kimiko screamed. Someone opened fire at her direction. Samui hauled her back down.
     "We've got to get out of here!" Samui ordered. The hail of gunfire seemed to turn its attention on the three. "We can't help Elyssa. They've got us pinned down. We've got to get out of here." Kimiko was about to argue but Samui continued. "I know how you feel. I wanted to protect Elyssa too. Tarsax!" She called to the big pilot. She nodded to Kimiko. He put an arm around her waist and picked her up easily and hopped back into his now ungarged tank. Samui took the gun and fired back. With Samui covering for them, the three fled from the building. *** Elyssa activated the self-destruct sequence. She didn't know how it worked, but it triggered a reverse- flow reaction in the main power cell of the mecha. Such a process could not be done without the pilot inside. Unfortunately the pilot had to remain, essentially sacrificing themselves to the destruction.
     So be it, Elyssa repeated in her mind. She had unleashed a mere fraction of what the suit could do. She could easily wipe out the men who were firing on her but chose not to. Instead, she sat there. Within moments, the reaction would back-flow and the mecha would self-destruct.
     Mishima couldn't build anymore of these mechas. Kimiko had seen to the erasure of all pertinent data. It would take years of rebuilding and research to once again accomplish what they had. But the hard evidence had to go as well. And that meant Elyssa had to die.
     To die to save the future. That was how she viewed it. The vision she had of the future was terrible. Cities in flames, hundreds of mechas fighting each other, bringing fire and destruction in their wake. The machines that Mishima had designed would change warfare completely. She hated that. She hated how good Mishima was at making weapons of destruction. *** Weissman knew when to cut his losses and run. This was one of those times. "Goddamit!" he swore, "I wanted that fucking thing. Everybody, GET OUTTA HERE!" The men instantly threw down their weapons and scrambled in random directions, trying to find the quickest way out of the doomed warehouse. The mecha thrummed quicker and quicker as the power-cell reached critical breakdown. *** A small warehouse in the industrial section of Capow erupted in flames as a giant explosion blew the building apart. Kimiko, Tarsax and Samui took shelter in a narrow alleyway and watched the flaming pieces of the warehouse fall from the sky.
     "Elyssa," Kimiko whispered.
     Samui bowed her head. She gave Tarsax a look. He nodded and she left. *** Moments before the self-destruct sequence completed, Elyssa closed her eyes and waited for the end to come. Instead, nothing happened. She opened her eyes. It was a bizarre scene. Men were heading toward the exits of the warehouse but were motionless where they stood. A red-haired woman walked between the statue-like men. It was the woman from her dream.
     Elyssa checked the gauges. The power-cells were nearly at critical breakdown. It didn't matter if she remained within the mecha. It would destroy itself regardless. So she removed the ring-probe and opened the front panel. Sliding out, she approached the woman.
     "What happened?" she asked.
     "I pulled you out of time," the woman answered with a smile.
     Elyssa's face went wide-eyed. "How's that possible?"
     "It's hard to explain. Elyssa Au Yeung. You were going to sacrifice yourself in order to destroy it?"
     Elyssa swallowed hard and nodded.
     "Your sacrifice is noble but there is no need for you to die here. I'm giving you the chance to continue on with your life. You have a lot of energy for one person and a lot of compassion. You deserve to continue on your way."
     The woman held out her hand. Elyssa took it tentatively. When they touched, the whole world around them shone in a bright flash. Everything disappeared. *** Elyssa awoke. The sky was clear, the sun was shining brightly. She could hear birds chirping. She got up from the ground and brushed the dirt from her clothing. Where was she? She noticed a building in front of her. The sign read 'Lurker's Retreat'. How did she get here?
     She walked into the bar. She remembered the first time she came here, looking for a place to stay. A woman in the corner of the room stood up. From the shadows, Elyssa couldn't make out who it was. The woman edged closer to the door. It was Kimiko.
     "How?" she said, shocked to see Elyssa.
     Elyssa smiled and shook her head. I don't know, was the mental expression she gave.
     Kimiko lowered her head, almost ashamedly. Elyssa reached out to touch the woman's shoulder. Instead, she stepped back, turned and walked out the door. Elyssa stood confused. She sat down at the bar and tried to remember anything. The last thing she recalled was the woman and the bright light.
     "Hey, can I get you anything?" Madoka asked.
     Elyssa shook her head. "Nothing you could fix," she said at first. Then something popped into her mind. "Maybe a job, I seem to need one now."
     Madoka pointed to a waitress' apron hanging behind the bar by the coatrack. "I need a new waitress. The old one disappeared." *** Kimiko walked away from the Lurker's Retreat. How was it possible Elyssa was alive? It had been a day since the explosion. Investigators found some bodies but all were unrecognizable. The mech was completely destroyed. There was no way Elyssa could have escaped. Yet there she had stood a few moments ago.
     She shook her head. Elyssa was supposed to be dead and she was the reason why. She had brought her into this. She could have left the girl somewhere safe. She didn't know how long it would take to forgive herself. Until then, she didn't think she could face Elyssa the same way again. ---

Post #22 [Dot wrote:]

     Finishing the last of a 50-some page report, Samui hit the "Save" button, then leaned back and rubbed her eyes.
     ' started out with me protecting Elyssa...but then *she* ended up as the one who saved us all...'
     Samui smiled a bit as she remembered Elyssa's bold declaration at Weissman's hideout.
     'Elyssa has changed so much since I first met her...' Samui turned off the computer. 'And she's not the only one who's changed...'
     Kimiko, shaken up over what had happened, had distanced herself from Elyssa after the girl had mysteriously shown up again--alive, no less--after the mech had blown up.
     'She probably blames herself for what happened,' Samui reasoned, putting her jacket on. 'She means well, but she'll hurt Elyssa's feelings if she keeps that up.'
     Locking the door behind her, Samui then pressed a button on the side of the house, restoring it into a capsule. --- The cheesecakes at _The Brighter Side of Insomnia_ were indeed good, but Kimiko was in no mood to enjoy them. She was simply there because she really didn't know where else to go.
     "You couldn't have known what would happen when you rescued Elyssa-san."
     Kimiko looked up to see Samui sitting down across from her. She shook her head. "No, but I should have known something like that would happen." She sighed and took a sip of her coffee. "But I still put her in danger."
     Samui said nothing for a while. Finally, she stood again. "If it makes you feel any better, I would have done the same thing."
     Kimiko watched Samui leave. "No," she said, more to herself than anyone else. "It doesn't." --- Elyssa woke up at around ten in the morning.
     "Now, this is a bit more like a summer vacation!" She exclaimed, yawning and stretching. After getting out of bed, she changed into some casual clothes and made herself some toast. As she headed downstairs to get the mail, she bumped into someone.
     "G-gomen nasai--" Elyssa nearly facevaulted when she saw that the person she had nearly run over was Samui.
     "Good morning, Elyssa-san."
     "You live here?"
     "I just moved in last night night."
     "Really? Which floor?"
     "The first. Apartment 119."
     "That's great! That makes us neighbors!"
     The edge of Samui's mouth raised a bit in what might have been a smile, or just a nervous twitch. "Yes, it does."
     Elyssa suddenly remembered something. "Hey, have you seen either of the two Lina's, or any of the others?"
     "Not since your dinner with them."
     Elyssa stroked her chin thoughtfully. "Hmm...I wonder where they could be..." --- The regulars who frequented St. John's park hardly paid any attention to the young lady and young man who were being pursued by what appeared to be a cloud of fog.
     "Why me?" Saphiros moaned as he ran with all his might.
     Lina M. whapped her brother on his head. "Shut up."
     "You can't run forever!" Kricket shouted.
     Suddenly, Lina came to a stop. "Hey, wait a minute! Hasn't this thread ended already?"
     Saphiros and Kricket also screeched to a stop.
     Kricket brought out the compilation and skimmed it. " has!" He looked up just in time to see Lina and Saphiros making a hasty exit. "Hey! HEY!" --- The other Lina and her trustworthy companion found themselves floating in a "Twilight Zone"-esque dimension.
     "Where are we?" Lina Inverse wondered. "And where did everyone else go?"
     "You're in the 'lost characters' zone," answered someone.
     Lina jumped a bit. "Who are you? And what do you mean, 'lost characters zone'?"
     "My name is Ono Tofuu, and the 'lost characters' zone is where people go when they are... dropped."
     Gourry swallowed nervously. "Dropped?"
     Tofuu nodded. "That's what happens when no one writes about you anymore. Back in the 'real' world, you simply disappear and nobody can seem to remember where they last saw you."
     "And then what?" Lina wanted to know.
     "If you're lucky, you'll be remembered and recalled to where you belong. If not, you just stay here."
     Gourry looked around. "Dang! There's a lot of people here!" A cute girl with pink hair walked by. "Hey, I know her! That's...that's...uh..." A name tugged at the back of his mind, but it slipped from his grasp.
     Lina decided to sit down and wait. "Somebody better write me out of here...or they'll regret it!"
     "Are you okay, Dot? That's the fifth time you've sneezed today..."
     The bespeckled writer whose pen name was that of a certain Warner sister only grinned sheepishly.

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