“There’s an old saying: ‘yesterday’s enemy is today’s friend.’ It's nothing more than a double-edged sword. An enemy could act friendly to get closer to you, or a friend could betray you after years of knowing each other. Make enemies have a reason to become your friend, and make your friends depend on you, even if it is a little. That way, you can guarantee no enemy will remain that way, and no friend will change their ways.”
In a certain building, on a certain level, a reunion was held.
Long ago, our group split apart into four. We each went our way, each to fulfill our mission.
Not everyone was done with their mission. Only three of us were present.
In a dark room, where our faces could not be seen, and only our voices were discernable, we gathered.
Today was not the day to catch up and talk about everything we’ve done over the past twenty years…
Today we reunited because one of us is getting distracted…
And because of that distraction, they haven’t finished their mission: to steal data about artificial organs and purge them out of the system, resetting their efforts.
To maintain balance, we steal. One cannot be allowed to stand above all others.
To maintain balance, we do whatever is necessary, nothing more nothing less.
“What do you two think about Matoya’s proposal?” I asked.
“It’s… interesting to say the least…” a man’s smooth yet rough voice said.
“She can be considered a candidate, that’s for sure,” a woman said peculiarly. “What do you think, Shina?”
“I want to accept her. Poor girl has lost her parents and is being used as a mere pawn or a puppet. I want her to be free.”
The room went silent. We were new to this. The last time we had talked to one another was 20 years, maybe even longer, ago. We were children back then. All we did was play and fight with one another while undergoing our proper education and psychological development.
“Well… her name was Erity, correct?” the man said.
“That is correct.”
“Whatever we decide to do, Matoya is already convinced about using her, right?”
“It appears so. Word had arrived earlier today about this,” I said. “Matoya proposes to try and make her betray CLEAR.”
“How do we do that?”
“By showing her CLEAR’s ruthlessness in disposing of those that have no use. She might act cold towards strangers, but deep down she cares. Her feelings are conflicted deep inside her… And because of her trauma, she shouldn’t be able to take the pain once more.”
“On one side, she has her fear caused by a past trauma before having been taken in by CLEAR. On the other side, she cares about those less fortunate but is afraid of someone fighting back and the possibility of someone taking everything away again,” the man said.
“She’s just a kid then. The same as Matoya from what I’ve heard,” the woman said.
“In the end, some things apply to everyone. She must long for care and affection. Someone to fulfill that parental role she never had,” I said, speaking softer and softer.
“Can’t we just leverage that then instead of this plan? It reminds me of how twisted Matoya can be. What did he call it back when he was a kid… A necessary evil?”
“I remember that time he declared that he would become a hero! Someone everyone could look up to,” the man said whilst chuckling.
“Yeah and then we all laughed at him for being immature despite us all being like seven,” the woman added
“He was cute back then…”
“I get what you mean… he’s changed. Still one of us, but colder. Were things that rough? Or I wonder if someone else made him like this…”
We all went silent, thinking back on the good times when we had so much fun. Playing tag, roleplaying as heroes of justice, or spies infiltrating an evil empire with a wicked dictator.
Things were much simpler back then…
“So…” I continued, “what do we do? Do we accept Matoya’s proposal?”
The other two remained silent. Even through the dark, I could still guess what the man was doing. Whenever he’s deep in thought, he closes his eyes and imagines the situation. He’s had this habit since he was a kid.
“I accept,” the woman said, “though I’m a bit sad that I have to risk my life once again after I just came back from surgery…”
“I feel the same,” the man responded, “SPEAR’s training was hell. I guess thanks to that I’ve become a weapons expert, but still. Stealing and purging their data was quite the task. I even had to take someone hostage… I accept Matoya’s proposal. He should know best.”
“I’m sorry that I can’t share that pain with you two…” I said to my comrades-in-arms… or maybe older brother and younger sister would be more fitting…
“I’m happy you don’t know, Shina,” the woman said, I could imagine the grin on her face.
“The boss was right in letting you stay here. The harsh environments at the corporates wouldn’t be a good fit for your personality. You developed here more than you could have at VOID or SPEAR,” the man said, I could sense his caring gaze pointed at me.
“Thank you, both of you…”
“The three of us are practically family. Matoya is too. We support each other whenever it is needed.”
“You’re right. Then let’s move forward with Matoya’s proposal. We’ll add ourselves to the planned attack force and aid Matoya, creating the situation he desires. In four days, we attack… and break Erity…”
I looked outside, my gaze fixed on nothing in particular. It seemed like an ordinary day, but I couldn’t help but feel anxious. I stood in Isao’s office, waiting for him to appear.
His office had a desk and a chair. It had two white sofas facing each other and a black table in between, a fluffy rug beneath it all. The walls were decorated with various quotes I heard from my time at the orphanage.
Soon an enemy thought to be Mythical, according to Akihiro’s report, would attack.
They know about the traps hidden in the walls… the tesla coils, Resonance, the nets, and the lasers.
They know about the Cybers’ and their capabilities. They even destroyed two of them in that last attack despite them being absolute beginners…
The next attack will hit much harder… this time, the real enemies, the professionals will be attacking us. I have no doubts that the Expansion Suit will be there. I need something to stop it. If I just knew where they would come from, I could plant an EMP bomb to disable it…
The only thing that can stop an Expansion Suit is an equal, or a superior force. It’s not like I could just use a bomb to destroy anything… I have to protect, not destroy.
“Be careful not to bite too hard,” Isao said as he entered the office.
“I won’t. It's under control,” I said as I lowered the thumb I was biting on.
“You can’t control your subconsciousness. In any case, you called for me?” Isao said as he went and sat down at his desk.
“I wanted to ask, what do you think about Akihiro’s report?”
“What is there to think of? His report itself was fine, how we handle ourselves now is what we should be thinking about.”
“Yes of course, which is why I want to ask permission to have Mana here to defend the building along with me and Akihiro.”
“Why Mana specifically?”
“I want to use this situation to the fullest. Danger can lead to feelings of friendship and comradery.”
“You want to use this situation to improve your relationship with her. I’ll allow it. You need to make the necessary arrangements for her to stay on level 8 since she normally works on level 7.”
“I will take care of it. I also want permission to bring Kanaye here with his Expansion Suit.”
“To fight against the black Expansion Suit, right? That should be fine, but anything regarding the Expansion Suit will need the permission of the board of directors. The board of Directors has approved the usage of Cybers as explosives if need be. Be sure to keep the authorization codes near you. By the way, the Interrupter won’t be fixed in time. Since this is the actual attack, enemies will most likely be more organized.”
“It can’t be any more brainless than the previous attack. They had no strategist back then, I can almost guarantee they will have someone now… There is one thing that’s bugging me…”
“That woman at the governmental building?”
“She told me she cared about me and that I would find out why in a week or so. That coincides with this attack. She has something to do with this, isn’t there anything we can do to track her down and interrogate her?”
“That’s nothing more than a suspicion. Besides, you met her in the courtyard, a place only accessible to guests or employees. as a guest or intruder, I doubt someone off the grid could enter there with no problems.”
“I’m still not naive enough to believe what she said conveniently lines up with a sudden attack for the first time in years.”
“You’re right, but what can we do?”
I remained silent. I don’t know what to do. I know my limits or what I can try, but what I should do… too many unknowns are at play here.
Mythical wants to steal and reset our research. I can understand stealing it, but why reset it?
Mythical has planned a day to attack, and someone leaked that information. I can’t help but feel that leak was part of their plan. Why not keep it between trusted allies and only communicate it to the grunts a day before or on the same day?
Why probe our defenses? That would just make us more on guard than normal. Surely if they had attacked on a normal day their chances of success would have been bigger.
Is Shina a part of this? She gave me a silver necklace with a phoenix pendant. I had given it to Isao to check it, but nothing turned up, not even a place where they manufactured it. If Shina is a part of this, then why initiate contact? She managed to make me question things more, is that part of their plan? To make me overthink? To stress me into sleeping less?
“Anomaly detected,” Akihiro said over the earpiece.
I tapped my ear and asked if Mythical was attacking, but his words were not what I was expecting.
“A single intruder has been found by Mana and Rai. They attacked some scientists and research equipment, running around causing havoc with a single Cyber they managed to take control of.”
“Is there something wrong, Erity?”
“Sir, you have access to all security cameras from here, correct?” I asked.
“Yes. Has something happened?”
“Xenos at Mana’s and Rai’s.”
“Then let’s take a look,” he said.
Isao tapped his desk two times and with it, a blue holographic keyboard appeared. A white bar laid at the back of his desk, which now activated and extended a glass screen. Isao ticked a few keys and accessed the cameras, beckoning me to come next to him.
I saw Mana, running through the hallways. And on a camera, a bit further ahead was the intruder along with a Cyber.
The hallways were dyed red. The normal lighting was shut off and the alarm lights had activated. Ahead of me, I saw the cause.
A cyber smashed some vials, counters, cabinets, and microscopes. Anything in its path was just something else to destroy. It dashed around, using its large metal arms and body to annihilate.
Behind it, I saw a girl with a smile on her face. Her gaze fixed on me.
The Cyber stopped and its face slowly turned my way. It began walking slowly, but with each step it accelerated more and more until it was sprinting towards me like a bull.
It moved its right arm backward and rapidly launched a punch at my face. I raised my hands just in time, blocking the hit, but not without a dull noise that rang throughout and an electrifying tingling running up my body.
Gripping its fist tightly, I tried to crush it, but in an instant, it launched its other fist, aimed at my stomach. I jumped and bent my body, the punch zoomed under me as I barely avoided it, hitting the cold floor soon after.
I grabbed its feet and pulled it with all of my power, causing it to fall to the ground.
I stood up as fast as I could and ran towards the girl hoping to take her out and stop the attack. The girl dashed for it immediately, trying to escape.
“Rai, use the traps,” I said, making sure that girl couldn’t hear me.
Metal footsteps clunked behind me. Taking a peek behind I saw that the Cyber was catching up to me quickly. I grabbed my left forearm and opened a small panel, pushed some buttons, and turned the limiter on the limb off.
I stopped running, turned around, and dashed towards the Cyber, ducking under its arms and hitting it with my left arm right in its torso.
The Cyber recoiled for a few meters and I decided to continue my chase for the girl. Pain spread throughout my left arm and crept up my body. Using the panel again, I placed a restriction on my left arm.
The Cyber soon continued its chase.
The more I continued, the more I felt my body vibrating deep inside. I headed towards the source, hoping to find that girl. Instead, I saw the wall had opened up to reveal several diaphragms shaking violently. The Resonancy trap. And just beyond it, I saw the leg of someone running away behind a corner. The girl had somehow made it through.
The trap turned off and I continued my chase. The Cyber caught up, but the trap activated once more causing the Cyber to malfunction and shake violently. Its pace was slowed down considerably.
“Mana, I’ll activate a few traps earlier, forcing her into you near the exit. Take a look at your tablet, I’ll mark the location for you,” Rai said.
“Got it. I trust you, so don’t fail me,” I said back.
“Is now the time Rai?!”
Grabbing the tablet out of a holster on my hip, I checked the map and after a few seconds, I saw a red dot near the exit. Trusting Rai, I stopped chasing the girl but instead went to where Rai told me to.
I arrived before the girl and the Cyber. Placing the tablet back into the holster, I grabbed my EMP pistol and readied it on Complete Shutdown mode.
I closed my eyes and focused everything on my hearing…
“They're almost there,” Rai warned.
Its faint… metal footsteps kept coming closer and closer. For them to go to the exit, they have to go through me.
I stepped out from the corner and took everything in. The Cyber limping in front and the girl behind.
I shot the Cyber’s arm, turning it useless as the bullet dissipated over its body.
I shot again, this time hitting its leg, making it trip and fall, sliding on the floor for a little. It was still trying to crawl toward me. I shot it in the head, completely disabling it.
Further ahead the girl stood calmly. Further back, the walls had opened up showing tesla coils, and occasional electricity jumped and arced back.
I switched my gun into Single Blast and aimed it toward her. The girl slowly started walking toward me, unafraid of the gun I pointed at her.
“Will you surrender peacefully?”
“That’s a stupid question to ask. Why would I? After all the damage I’ve done, Mana?” the girl said to me, her red eyes glaring at me.
She had short wavy white hair and was wearing a lab coat. In one hand she held a thin tablet which she kept beside her.
“Why would you betray CLEAR?”
“Because I want to kill you…” was all she said in a disgusted tone.
“Why me specifically?”
“You don’t even remember…?” The girl said, her eyes widening and her mouth slightly hanging open. I wondered for a second… is that how I looked when I hated Erity…
I shot the ground in front of her, forcing her to stop walking. She didn’t care. She continued forward despite the warning.
“You betrayed my friend… what else could it be…? ‘Everyone is imperfect. Everyone has flaws. Use your friends to cover them and turn enemies into your most trusted allies.’ remember that phrase?”
“Yeah I understand, you’re from the orphanage. That quote didn’t end there though. ‘The best way to know one another is to fight each other.’”
“That doesn’t apply here. You backstabbed my friend, my only friend!” The girl cried out, “and because of that. I will kill you.”
“I have a gun in my hands. You have a tablet.”
“I will still do whatever is necessary…”
“The circle of violence… that’s what Akihiro called it, didn’t he?”
The girl began sprinting, her hand which held the tablet raised to smack me with it, but I aimed my pistol and shot her in the stomach, causing her to drop on her face.
I ran and jumped on top of her, foiling her plans to stand up once more. We scuffled on the ground for a little before I managed to force her legs under my right leg and grabbed her wrists with my metallic hands, placing them forcibly on her back.
“Let me go!” The Xenos cried out.
“That’s a stupid question to ask,” I said as I tightened my hold on her arm and pushed it upward. “Which group do you belong to?”
“As if I would tell you…” she said as a grin appeared on her face, “don’t you want to know how your two childhood friends Yukako and Mieko are doing?”
“What are you talking about? They’re dead,” I said as my eyes widened
“I know a lot about you, Mana. I know you used to hate Erity before that damn Akihiro broke you. I know about your friends, your grudge, what you like, what you hate.”
“State your name!”
“Of course, you don’t remember me. Why would you remember a measly pebble you stepped on!?”
“I did to you what Erity did to me… You hate me for the same reason I used to hate Erity…”
“Enough talk. Let me go and I’ll tell you about Yukako and Mieko.”
“Those two are gone… They’re dead. I know they are!”
“Do you think CLEAR would let them take the easy route and die? They’re investments. Nothing but mere property, just like you, just like me. They’ll do whatever the hell they think is most beneficial. Don’t you want to know? Everything they had to endure? The experiments they had to undergo?”
“What does it matter… They’re dead. Whether I know it or not, I have to leave the past behind. Knowing will do nothing for me.”
“Let me go and I’ll give you some secret insight on CLEAR. Something that will make you betray this company!” she said forcibly.
“Some screws in your head must be loose,” I said as I returned my focus to her. I forced her left hand upwards, straining them.
I kept pushing up and up until I finally heard an off-putting crack. The girl cried out in pain and struggled violently, trying to push me off. She cried and spitted, dirtying the ground.
“There’s a traitor in CLEAR!” The girl cried out.
“Yeah… I’m looking right at them.”
“Another traitor you dumb idiot,” the Xenos said as she looked back at me. Her gaze was fierce, yet filled with tears.
Is this how I looked at Erity when Mieko and Yukako were…?
“There is a traitor…” the girl continued, “one from MINX, one that will cripple your defenses.”
“All talk… no evidence. Do you think you can shake me up that easy?”
“Tch. You’ve been getting quite cozy with Erity haven’t you?” The girl said as she started laughing a little.
“Why would I discuss that with you?”
“Because with the way things are going… Erity WILL break at the hands of MINX,” the Xenos uttered while a wicked grin appeared.
I thought about it for a moment, thinking back on the girl’s words. Were they mere taunts, or was there some truth to them? I can’t help but feel there’s something more to them.
Erity is strong. Stronger than I am. She won’t break. But why taunt me using Erity and not Rai, the person I’ve been working alongside and have been friends with for over four years?
My thoughts wandered for a while. I shook my head and focused my attention on the pinned Xenos underneath me. I noticed she was reciting something… some line… of code?
“...That can’t be…” I said as I looked at the disabled Cyber a bit behind me.
I let go of the Xenos and jumped backward, guarding my face with my arms. In just a mere second, the Cyber started glowing orange from deep within and it exploded with a roar. The sound reverberated through the hallways and a loud beep echoed in my ears.
I lowered my arms. The girl was nowhere to be seen. The smoke slowly lifted as I stood back up to run towards the exit. I went through the smoke and saw the girl running away. I tried to lift my pistol to shoot but it was hit by shrapnel.
I noticed the hard artificial skin had burned off, showing my metal arms in their natural form. They were slightly damaged, but nothing could stop me from catching her.
I chased after the girl, my arms swaying a bit unnaturally.
I need to know more.
I have to know.
The girl managed to reach the outside and sprinted across the plaza in front of the building heading for some trees.
With every step I got a bit closer, I was slowly catching up…
I was almost within reach, soon I would get the answers I craved…
That desire was violently interrupted when a loud bang broke the silence and a hole appeared in the back of the girl’s head. Two crows scared of the sound flew into the sky, dropping a single feather.
The girl continued running for a single step more, before collapsing into the ground and falling face first into the concrete ground.
I looked towards where the bullet had come from and there, up high, I saw a black line between the white walls of the building.
“Sorry,” Rai said over the earpiece, “There was a vehicle hidden a bit further ahead. I couldn’t risk letting them escape.”
“Then why not shoot the vehicle instead?!” I asked Rai exasperatedly
“...I… didn’t think about that… When someone gets outside, we shoot to kill…” was all she said, softly.
Normally that would have been fine, but in this case, it is the worst thing that could have happened.
“Mana failed to catch the intruder. She had caught the Xenos yet she let down her guard…” Isao muttered softly.
“What will happen with Mana? Will she be punished?” I asked to confirm my suspicions.
“I’ll need to report this to the board of directors. We didn’t hear everything they talked about. Depending on her report, she will most likely be forced to be a test subject for a new artificial limb or organ prototype... I’ve heard they needed a new test subject for S_heart…” Isao said as he rubbed his forehead.
“That can wait after Mythical’s attack right?”
“If I can do anything about it, it will never happen at all.”
“I’ll make the necessary arrangements for Mana. I’ll come up with a plan of defense myself and a day before I’ll tell both Akihiro and Mana.”
“Don’t force yourself too hard. If you need Mana and Akihiro to help, or even Rai or Kanaye, then ask them to help. You all have a similar background and education, so trust in their abilities.”
“It's not that I don’t trust anyone, it's that I feel responsible to repel this attack since I failed to do so last time…”
“Last time you were off-duty and still managed to do pretty well. You weren’t punished, were you? The board doesn’t blame you for the attack, they blamed Akihiro instead which was why he needed to go to level 3.”
“That doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings of guilt…”
I turned towards the door and tried to leave the office…
“Erity wait,” Isao said as I was closing the door, “Mana wants to talk to you. She’s asking to come to your place later tonight, shall I tell her it's okay?”
“...? Sure, I’ll see her there.”