Chapter 1:

Black Snow 1-1

Further Than The Sky

Six large humanoid machines trekked through a valley, only the white of the snow to accompany them. Explosions went off in every direction beyond the peaks, the fires of war flashing before them like a fireworks display on Independence Day. Despite the hellish battlefield they were beneath, they continued pacing forward, hiding away from the conflict.Bookmark here

A red-haired woman piloting on of the machines eyed the timer on her screen. "Five minutes till we're in operation range. When we're there, the autopilot will shut off." Her ears twitched when she heard the sound of a guitar on her transmission. "Nine! You're practicing here? Now?!"Bookmark here

The man sitting in the machine behind hers had his legs crossed, an acoustic guitar on his lap. "Yes and?" He played a few notes in quick succession, despite having to compromise space in that cramped cockpit. "All we can hear is boom boom boom. A little bit of music to break the tension isn't too much a favour, yeah? Gotta chill."Bookmark here

"Wahaha!" An old man in another robot laughed heartily. "I remember that one time dear old Nine slid a CD into the command center's computers. Everyone went into red alert thinking it was an enemy attack. Wahaha!"Bookmark here

The redhead noticed one transmission cut off upon hearing the first 'wahaha'. She paid it no mind. "Anyway! We're five minutes from starting the mission. Don't you think it's too reckless to play around at this kind of time?"Bookmark here

"Relax, Two." Nine said, combing back his graying hair. "The usual length for the songs I listen to are about four minutes. Plenty of time to get one song down."Bookmark here

He continued playing, completely unfazed by the war being waged above them. A robot plummeted in a flaming wreck from those skies, exploding next to him. Yet he kept strumming, not an ounce of fear or surprise in his expression.Bookmark here

"That song..." Two closed her eyes, recalling the tune he played. "That's I Don't Want To Miss A Thing, by Aerial Smith, isn't it?"Bookmark here

"Wahaha! So our grumpy, naggy commander has an eye for music after all!"Bookmark here

"Shut up, Seven."Bookmark here

Nine winked, not a pause to his play. "Yeah, it's Aerial Smith alright. Surprised you even know of them."Bookmark here

"It's the song my fiancé and I listened to back when we were dating."Bookmark here

"I'm more surprised that you had a fiancé."Bookmark here

"Just a fiancé, the marriage never took off." Two leaned back and sighed, a frosty cloud forming out her dry lips. "He got enlisted into the military, and we never communicated ever again. I joined the militia hoping to find him, but..."Bookmark here

"No dice?"Bookmark here

"He didn't make it through his first sortie."Bookmark here

"Oh. Sorry."Bookmark here

"Wahaha!" Seven laughed, trying to lighten the tension. "Y'know what they say! Shit happens. You just got to move on from it!"Bookmark here

She grimaced at his advice. "I'm an adult, I know that. Mind you, I'm technically your boss right now too. A little respect goes a long way."Bookmark here

"Wahaha! Rank does not equate to experience, Two. The fact that you've got a nice tuft of hair to show proves that!"Bookmark here

"Just because you're bald doesn't mean you're better. I have a higher rank because I'm skilled. Experience means nothing in the face of ability." She shook her head, grumbling. "Nine, per chance, do you know how to sing that song?"Bookmark here

"Hell no, just listen to my voice." He spoke with guttural growl, a natural consequence of a smoking addiction. "I ain't gonna besmirch Steve Tyler's godly voice with my shitty singing. Why don't you sing? You know the lyrics."Bookmark here

A feminine voice exclaimed over their receivers, "Six can sing it! She used to be an idol!"Bookmark here

Everyone screamed back together, "Hell no!"Bookmark here

Two groaned, clutching on the uniform she hung over her shoulders, the fur-lined hood warming her collared neck. "Fine, I'll try." She closed her eyes, listening closely, noting how Nine was getting close to the chorus. "Don't wanna close my eyes~ Don't wanna fall asleep cause I'd miss you babe, and I don't wanna miss a thing~"Bookmark here

Nine smiled wryly, with a taste of disgust. "Yeah... That's some monotone singing right there. You might need a few karaoke sessions."Bookmark here

"Shut up! It's been years since I heard it, okay? I was nervous."Bookmark here

"Wahaha! Nervous about what? Singing or dying?"Bookmark here

"Singing—" She gasped. "Hey! Why the hell are we screwing around?! It's a minute before we reach the combat zone!"Bookmark here

Nine strummed his last note. "Relax, we can't enter battle feeling all stressed out, it'll take our fighting skills down a notch or two." He put away his guitar, placing it on the passenger's seat behind his. "It's times like these when we should chat some more, know a little more about each other. Tell some juicy secrets." The flashing explosions of the battle reflected in his yellow irises. "We don't know if it'll be the last time we'll get to say it."Bookmark here

Two smirked as she heard his words. "Then we don't divulge any secrets. Cause today won't be the last time we'll get to say anything to each other, nor will tomorrow. I'm not letting any of you die, understood? The objective of this mission is to take back the Liner Research Facility, and if impossible, to destroy it. My only order to all of you..." She took a deep breath, clutching her controls as the timer fell down to the seconds. "Is to survive."Bookmark here

"Wahaha! How dramatic!"Bookmark here

"AMS, disengaging autopilot."Bookmark here

Reaching the end of the valley, the autopilot on all six machines shut off, the giant sign bearing the nine words disappearing off their screens. They pushed on the levers to acquit themselves to their machines, a slight warm-up before the real show.Bookmark here

They had radars to help them know where their enemies are, however, they knew that such information was useless on that snowy-field stained with black. Robots covered the skies, airships flying alongside them, beams and ballistics raining down in every direction. With such a vast, chaotic skirmish, their own two eyes proved to be of more use than any technology.Bookmark here

A subordinate of theirs spoke up, quivering from the gelid air and his own fear. "T-T-Two...! Where did you say the Liner Research Facility was? Cause the only buildings I see are buried in snow!Bookmark here

"It's on the other side of this battlefield. We've got no choice but to break through."Bookmark here

He gasped. "Break through?! This?!"Bookmark here

"Just do what I say."Bookmark here

"N-N-Nine! Nine! I don't wanna die! What the hell am I supposed to do?!"Bookmark here

The man tugged on his tattered red scarf, reaching within the deepest parts of his mind to extract words of advice from his knowledge and experience born from his time with the military forces. Three words came to him, and casually, as a father would to a son, he said, "Don't get hit."Bookmark here

VVVVVVVBookmark here

The beautiful hymns of a violin was all that echoed throughout the pristine, porcelain walls. The view beyond the windows was but a sea of clouds brushing by. The young lady with the instrument against her neck and a bow in hand stood front and center; her eyes shut as the tune took precedence of her focus and attention.Bookmark here

Her cheeks tightened, sweat dripping from the tips of her golden locks. The song she played hastened, slowly devolving into a chaotic howl. With an angered grunt, the lady stopped, the music ending with an abrupt screech. She glanced to her right, eyeing the reflection in the window.Bookmark here

A familiar silhouette stood behind her, cross-shaped hairpin on her fringe particularly eye-catching. The two girls wore the same outfit, a white jacket over black, a red ribbon to complete the look. Miniskirts three centimeters above their knees, the two could almost be mistaken to be schoolgirls in uniform.Bookmark here

Arms crossed, the onlooker asked, "Why are you practicing now? We're almost arriving at the combat zone."Bookmark here

The violinist calmly stepped over to a box bared open on a countertop, putting away her instrument with utmost care. "I'm well aware." Closing the box shut, she leaned back, raising a finger to her friend. "Did you know? Music soothes the soul. I simply needed a last minute recreation."Bookmark here

"What I heard tells me that you're far from soothed. Is something bothering you?"Bookmark here

The blonde was quiet. She turned to the window again, the heavy snow dashing across her watery blue irises. Her palm pressed against the glass, pushing down as if she were trying to crack it through nothing but pressure.Bookmark here

"I'm Sovian, you must be well aware, no? Three years ago, I was not a soldier, nor was I a pilot. Merely another girl living an ordinary life. I woke up. I went to school. I made friends. I went home. I did my homework. I slept. That was my life. But that day..." She gritted her teeth, anger seething through its cracks. "It was snowing heavily, just like today. I lost everything. I blinked but once, and this snow took everything I've ever loved away right before my very eyes. And now..."Bookmark here

The girl finished for her. "You're back at Sovia." She placed a caring hand on her shoulder, hoping her empathy came through. "Anastasia, I know it must be hard for you to come back here. But you're the first ranked pilot aboard the Jotunheim. You can't let your emotions best you, not at such a critical moment."Bookmark here

Anastasia took her friend's hand away. "I'm aware. Those Imperials will make quick work of me if I fight too recklessly. But I swear by my name that I will make them pay. Those monsters are vile and cruel."Bookmark here

"Then, if you know, I'll head out first." She stepped toward the door, pushing a button to open it up. "Charlotte's headed out early to clear the area surrounding the combat zone, so now it's my turn to go in and clear a path with the Red Rose."Bookmark here

"You may be second ranked, but you're on equal grounds as me when it comes to AMS combat." She stressed her face into a reassuring smile. "Show them what we Candidates are capable of, Karen."Bookmark here

With a nod, the girl left.Bookmark here

Anastasia stood in there, her expression fading. Her eyes rolled toward an ornament ring on her left hand. Inscribed into the gold, hard as it was to see, was one word, 'Alexandrovna'. She raised her hand and kissed the ring, a single tear escaping.Bookmark here

"Father. Mother. Everyone. It is only because of all of you that I continue to live on. I don't have anything left to live for, which is why I dedicate this life you saved to your deaths." She clasped her hands together, her arms shaking. "I may not have a country to fight for, but I swear by our name that I will take back everything Gestahl has robbed us of."Bookmark here

She froze, her skin paling white as the snow.Bookmark here

"So please, give me the strength to fight."Bookmark here

VVVVVVVBookmark here

When Karen sat in her bright red AMS, the gates of the runway before her opened up one by one. With a few flicks of switches, she activated the machine, yelping as a sharp pain shot up her spine to her brain. It was normal, the AMS externally connects to the pilot's mind to help maximize their piloting abilities. No surgical modifications were needed, any person is connected as soon as they activate these machines. How compatible they are with such a system, that's a whole other story.Bookmark here

Karen clutched the levers by her side, watching the snow flow into the launching pad. She could see the fighting even from where she was. She sighed, finding it sad how ceaseless the war is. She always believed in peace. She always thought that every conflict can be solved if both parties could take the time to understand one another.Bookmark here

"Yet here I am in the cockpit of an AMS..."Bookmark here

The irony cut deep. She never wanted have a hand in the war, but she ended up deported into the Candidate Program. As a peace-loving person, she had a talent for these war machines. A talent that frightens her.Bookmark here

An older woman's face appeared on her screen. She straightened her posture and instinctively saluted.Bookmark here

"Karen. A brief rundown of your orders. You are to clear a path through the waves of Imperial AMSs to allow the Jotunheim to reach the Liner Research Facility. Do not stray too far away from the airship. After the path is clear, immediately withdraw and leave the rest up to Anastasia's Blue Magnolia."Bookmark here

"Understood."Bookmark here

The feed cut, and her screen was clear. She glanced to her right, looking at the katana her machine wielded. The Akatsuki Type-III. A quick glance to the left was a shorter wakizashi, the prototype Hibiki. They were the only weapons she had. They were the only weapons she needed.Bookmark here

The Red Rose was specifically geared toward high mobility whilst still boasting excellent handling. It could fly at speeds exceeding Mach 1, yet the pilot can still maneuver it as if it were moving at strolling speeds. In short, the machine was second to none in terms of melee combat. Engaging it at close ranged combat was equal to suicide.Bookmark here

The only reason she was the sole pilot of this one-of-a-kind machine was because she was Candidate, nothing more, nothing less. Not once in her piloting career has she taken major damage.Bookmark here

"Karen Murakumo, Red Rose, launching."Bookmark here

With a step on the pedal, the catapult her machine's feet were strapped to pushed her machine forward into the bountiful snow.Bookmark here

VVVVVVVBookmark here

"It's a little hectic up here, ain't it?"Bookmark here

"A little?"Bookmark here

Two, Nine and Seven were breaking through to the facility by going straight across the battlefield. Needless to say, the amount of ammunition being fired in every direction made for an excruciating experience for the pilots. Compared to every other machine flying in that airspace, theirs were notably more rusty. AMSs have certain design elements that all come together, but theirs looked like random parts of various machines put together hastily.Bookmark here

There was a term used to describe 'junkyard' AMSs such as these, ALT. The only thing an ALT will ever have over an AMS is that it rolled off the tongue better.Bookmark here

Still, despite appearing vastly inferior, the three soared through those skies, avoiding any kind of damage as they maneuvered to the chaotic web of battle. Their performance was far within satisfaction. Perhaps it was good customization and loadout, perhaps it was their abilities as veterans coming to fruition, but the three hadn't any fear toward the afterlife.Bookmark here

Their other teammates took a different, safer route around the battlefield. Their jobs were to become artillery support once they touch down at the facility. In the first place, their safety wasn't guaranteed if they had to brave through the crossfire.Bookmark here

"Wahaha! Two was right!" Seven was cackling as he steered his way through. "The enemies don't care enough to take out small fries like us! Going through straight through was the best choice! Our buddies over there with the fancy tech get all the attention!"Bookmark here

"Yeah, but..." Nine stomped his foot on the pedal, drastically halting his machine's acceleration. Just as he came to a stop, a big blue laser from an airship whizzed right in front of him, taking a direct hit on an allied ship. "You gotta watch out for stray fire." He continued flying on, catching up with his squad.Bookmark here

Two was barely listening. All her focus went into her eyes. "Just a little more. We're almost there!"Bookmark here

"Guys! Guys!" a feminine voice spoke up on their transmission. "Six detected something! Unidentified unit approaching! It's coming in fast! Really fast! It's three times faster than the average AMS!"Bookmark here

"Three times faster?" Nine's mouth gapped, his eyes nearly escaping his sockets. "Is it red?!"Bookmark here

The three of them eyed the sky before them as a single red line zoomed in every direction, seemingly randomly. But behind that line was a trail of destruction, units exploding the moment the line touches them. And what was worse was it was getting closer.Bookmark here

"Shit, of all times!" Two opened a transmission to her other team. "Guys, where are you? Are you seeing that?"Bookmark here

"One red thing getting all the kills? Just like my children's cartoons."Bookmark here

"Good. If you can see it, then stay there for a sec. Five, please ready your sniper rifle." She pushed a few buttons, locking her sights on the enemy. The single eye on her ALT's head telescoped out, the camera's retinas narrowing to get a clearer lock. "Six, connect Five's FCS to my lock. Five, when you have a clear shot, shoot to kill."Bookmark here

Neither gave her a response, but she was confident that they were acting as she commanded. The distance was still pretty far, but within seconds, a single beep came on, and Two was successfully locked on to the unit which not even her eyes could follow.Bookmark here

The lock was then sent over to Five who was even further away from the action than the three, and her Firing Control System was tied down to wherever the enemy AMS moved. Sniper rifle ready, it's barrel swaying toward the AMS' relative angle, it was just a matter of time before an opening showed itself.Bookmark here

Two puffed her chest up. Six and Five were both awfully strange, in two radically different ways. Neither of the two girls were worthy of trust. But, if she coordinated them right, then miracles could occur.Bookmark here

She saw it, it was just a twitch, maybe even a moment of hesitation, but the red line slowed down for a brief moment. At the top of her lungs, she screamed, "Now!"Bookmark here

Five pulled the trigger, and a single purple beam zipped past the battlefield like a flash of lightning. The distance that exceeded two kilometers was traversed in an instant, and the beam struck the red AMS dead center. A beam would always cut through metal like hot knife through butter, so the chances of the AMS standing was close to null...Bookmark here

So they believed.Bookmark here

Two's triumphant grin slowly arched down to a horrified scowl when she saw the machine intact. In fact, it hadn't suffered even a scratch. She couldn't fathom why such a thing would occur. The question would've continued to build up if not for Nine putting the answer right there for her to digest in three simple words.Bookmark here

"A fucking barrier?!"Bookmark here

Karen breathed out in relief. Had it not been for the Twitch Armour, she would have been dead by now. It was an energy shield that deployed in every direction surrounding her AMS if she was unable to evade an attack. A shield that can only protect her for that pivotal moment that would cost her life. All Candidate AMSs are equipped with it, and it has not seen usage anywhere else.Bookmark here

She doubted herself. That was what could have killed her. In the end, the only thing stopping her from surpassing Anastasia was her hesitation and indecisiveness. Composing herself once more, she raised her head and looked at her screen at the AMS that was locking onto her from afar. With a gentle step on the pedal, she chased after it.Bookmark here

Two shrieked, "Shit! She's charging! One, Three, Five! Your location is compromised, run!" Without another order, she, Nine and Seven had already begun escaping.Bookmark here

"Quick analysis, guys!" Six couldn't stop panting as she spoke fast. "The AMS only has swords! I repeat! It only has swords! So just shoot it!"Bookmark here

Nine yelled back in irritation, "Shut up! Don't make it sound easy!"Bookmark here

"Wahahahahahaha!" Seven was laughing hard, but it was obvious from his face that he too was petrified. "It's fast! It's waaaay too fast! We can't shake it off! Wahaha!"Bookmark here

The Red Rose was getting closer and closer, her katana fixated on Seven's ALT. Inching closer and closer, she raised her blade, a crimson chaotic burning aura emanating from its edge. One strike, and she could cut through it to bring it down.Bookmark here

Karen pushed on her lever. The blade fell. But she didn't hit what she expected to.Bookmark here

Nine couldn't even react when he saw it. Two had maneuvered her ALT in to take the blow for her comrade. Her machine's top half came clean off, and it arms fell into the buried city beneath them. Losing control, her ALT was sent flying in a downward spiral into the hills of snow.Bookmark here

He wanted to scream, but he knew it wasn't the time. The enemy was still before them. Nine had no choice but to bottle his feelings up and finish the job.Bookmark here

"Seven, go to the facility. I'll hold the line long enough for you to get there."Bookmark here

"Wahaha! Alone?! Are you crazy?!"Bookmark here

"Crazy in a crazy world." He licked his lip. "Pretty normal, I guess. I told you. Before I got shipped to this piece of shit squad, I used to be quite the hotshot. Remember what they called me?"Bookmark here

"Bullet Striker." Seven breathed in for a moment to contemplate. "Wahaha! Then I'll leave it to you!"Bookmark here

The thrusters on his ALT blazed up, and he flew further and further away as Nine stared the Red Rose down. She didn't move after cutting Two down, she just waited, almost expecting him to act. Since guns were useless in the face of the Twitch Armour, Nine drew out a steel blade attached onto his left shoulder. It folded out, nearly doubling in length.Bookmark here

Karen didn't think much of it. One quick scan of the ALT and she knew the machine would be unable to best her in melee. The only thing she can't account for is the pilot's ability. But even then, the specs between his ALT and her Red Rose was like night and day.Bookmark here

She hated it. Whoever was in that ALT was probably shrieking in fear, crying for his family. But from the way his blade is drawn, it was obvious he was ready to kill. When she hesitated earlier, she almost got shot down. That was why she cleared her mind of any guilt and remembered that there were things she wanted to protect too.Bookmark here

Noticing how it was obvious he's trying to serve as distraction to let his ally get away, she activated her thrusters, red flames releasing from the turbines. Eyes set on his ally, she boosted past him.Bookmark here

Nine thought to himself, "Relentless bastard's still going after Seven!" He almost instinctively turned around, it was the most logical thing to do in such a situation, wasn't it? But he knew, he just knew, that there was something in his blind spot. Without thinking twice, he reached his blade over his shoulder and—Bookmark here

Clang!Bookmark here

Waves were released from the clashing blades, the falling snow around them melting into rain from the thermal release. Nine started panting, his instincts were right; she was trying to get him while he turned around. He looked over his shoulder, noticing movement in the other arm. With a quick reflex, he stopped swing at its halfway point, catching the Red Rose's arm by the wrist.Bookmark here

"One arm locking blades, the other holding the other hand back." Nine groaned. "Dammit, my Vulcans are all pointed up front. I can't shoot it!" He smirked. "Then again, Samurai Flamenco here doesn't have any guns on. So we're locked in a stalemate..."Bookmark here

Karen didn't know what to feel. Not once has she had to swing at an enemy more than once. But to think she swung twice, yet this ALT with below average specs was able to remain intact. It was almost unthinkable, how something like this could occur. She couldn't believe what was before her very eyes.Bookmark here

Yet, neither of them had time to rest. Warning signs appeared on both their screens, and they realized that they were locked on by an Imperial airship. The sirens went crazy when an enormous salvo of missiles shout out the massive shit, blackening the blue sky with its smoke.Bookmark here

Nine gasped as dozens of missiles were headed his way. "I'm one of you, dumbass!"Bookmark here

Karen on the other hand, knew that the Twitch Armour wouldn't too helpful when hammered by so many missiles, it had a limited amount of uses. With a quick thought, she delivered a kick straight at the ALT's back, pushing it off. Nine boosted away, turning around to look his at his foe one last time.Bookmark here

And thus the salvo of missiles split the two apart.Bookmark here

Karen soared upwards, relying on her extreme mobility to outrun the missiles. Within seconds, she was far beyond the missiles homing range.Bookmark here

"That's enough." The older woman commanded, her face appearing on her screen again. "You're too far away. The path is clear, return to the Jotunheim."Bookmark here

"Understood..."Bookmark here

She stared downwards at the massive white area. Her only thought was of that one foe that played her hand in her field of expertise. It was just a crappy ALT with parts taken from various AMSs. Yet, he was able to stand his ground despite being so close to her. She doubted his AMS could outrun the barrage of missiles, but given his performance, he could very well have found his way around the attack.Bookmark here

"Just who was that guy...?"Bookmark here

VVVVVVVBookmark here

"Phew!"Bookmark here

Nine's ALT climbed out the snow, a single mechanical arm carrying the giant machine out a pile of white. In order to get the heat off him, he flew down into the snow-buried city, hoping the sub-zero temperature and low altitude would get the missiles off him. Ridiculous as the plan was, he didn't take a hit, so no one gets to complain.Bookmark here

Finally seeing light, he leaned back on his seat and pumped his fist. He survived. Such an occasion called for celebration. He reached into his coat pocket and took out a pack of cigarettes. Biting onto on stick, he took out a lighter and let the scent of tobacco fill his cockpit. The battle still waged on up above, he was so far below and so far away, that it was fine for him to just enjoy a smoke.Bookmark here

His eye caught on to a machine trapped in the snow, just as he was. From the rusty exterior and the missing head, it was obvious to him that it had to be Two's ALT. He moved quickly toward it, finding a cockpit torn wide open for the snow to fill. And beneath that snow was head full of red.Bookmark here

With a flip of a switch, he activated the speakers on his machine. "Two! I see you right there! You alive?!"Bookmark here

But there was no response.Bookmark here

He took a deep breath of smog, a vein popping on the side of his head.Bookmark here

"Two, you better answer, dammit! You can't just die so soon! You've got lots of shit left to do!"Bookmark here

He raised his ALT's rifle up to the sky and fired twice. In close proximity, the sound was almost deafening.Bookmark here

"We still gotta work on your singing! Karaoke with me, every day from now on! You have a good voice, you just need more expression! I'll help you! Come on! You have the potential to become Gestahl's number one idol! And I'm not talking about that shitty 48-member idol group Six came from!"Bookmark here

Her hand rose up from the snow, and his face brightened at the sight. She rolled her hand into a fist, and slowly raised her middle finger at him.Bookmark here

"That's the Two I know."Bookmark here

Pushing herself out the snow, she sneezed once or twice from the cold. Climbing out her busted ALT, she shook her bleeding head as Nine's ALT reached its hand out to her. Hopping on, she then ran up its arm all the way to the torso, where a hatch was automatically opened for her.Bookmark here

Reaching her face into the cockpit, she sniffed twice. "You're smoking in here?!"Bookmark here

"Hey, it helps me calm down. That shit just now was crazy."Bookmark here

"Well, not every day a new high-tech model just waltzes into the battlefield. Still, we have to expect the unexpected. Especially if we want to survive." She wiped the blood dripping down her cheek. "Where's Seven?"Bookmark here

"Held the line so he could go. He should be there by now."Bookmark here

"Well, let's hope he's still there by the time we get there. I'll be giving orders from your backseat from now onwards."Bookmark here

She stuck her legs in through the hatch, stepping on his face. Balancing about, she stood on his shoulders and gently got onto the passenger's seat. Just as she put her butt down, she realized that an acoustic guitar was taking up her leg space.Bookmark here

"Why the hell am I sitting with your guitar?!"Bookmark here

"It's not like I expected you to hitch a ride with me!"Bookmark here

"You're way too irresponsible...!" She looked up as the hatch closed. "What kind of psycho brings his guitar to war?!"Bookmark here

"The guitar keeps us all from going crazy!" Nine dabbed the ashes on the lever to his left. "Music is an expression of the soul! The only thing that divides man from beast is the soul."Bookmark here

She opened a first-aid kit by her right, taking out the bandages and wrapping it around her head. "Yeah, but that doesn't mean you have to take a whole frickin' guitar with you everywhere you go!"Bookmark here

"Trust me, five years from now, I'll be needing this guitar. Screw this war, I just wanna be a rockstar!"Bookmark here

"You're already crazy..." She shook her head, taking out a headpiece from her coat. Attaching it to her ear, she clicked on some miniscule buttons on its side to adjust its frequency. "Two here. I managed to survive, but my ALT didn't make it. I'm in Nine's ALT right now. A minor inconvenience, especially for my legs."Bookmark here

"Wahaha! And here I thought the young boss died to save this old hoot!"Bookmark here

"I wouldn't die so early, I'm the heroine here. Seven, we'll be with you soon. Everyone else, proceed with the mission as stated in the briefing." She snapped her neck twice, exchanging glances with Nine through the reflection on the screens. "So, had you quite worried there, did I?"Bookmark here

"No. I don't care. I knew you'd be okay."Bookmark here

She slapped him on the side of the head. "Oh you. You think I wasn't listening? I have a good voice, huh?"Bookmark here

"Shut up, I didn't say that. No one said that."Bookmark here

She leaned back, resting her cheek on her palm. "Thursday and Friday nights. You and me. Karaoke. That's an order from a superior."Bookmark here

"Now you're just abusing your power."Bookmark here

"You're the one who suggested it." She shook her head, slight irritation welling up within. "Whatever. Let's head out now. To the Liner Research Facility."Bookmark here

To Be ContinuedBookmark here

A/N: And, cut! That's the first chapter of FTTS! Hurray! I'm going for a more ensemble cast with this, so there isn't any 'main character' type. Well, actually, the 'main character' types haven't been introduced yet, everyone in this chapter are more supporting cast than anything. Since there were a lot of names flying around (so many people named after numbers), I'm hoping their personalities and dialogue stand out to be memorable.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.