Chapter 2:

Black Snow 1-2

Further Than The Sky

Karen docked her Red Rose back on the Jotunheim. As crane arms grabbed ahold of the machine to keep it in place, she clasped her hands together, balancing her forehead over her knuckles. She was frustrated, unable to comprehend how a dinky ALT was able to survive an encounter against her.

No, it was less that her ego was bruised, more that she was terrified. If that pilot could hold his own with specs so bad, what could he do if he were piloting something on her Red Rose's standard? Had he shown up into battle in such a unit, she could have been dead then and there. The fact that the only thing keeping her alive on that battlefield was her superior unit was frightening.

"Why do you look so gloomy?"

A transmission came in, a live feed of a girl with twintailed pink hair appearing on her screen. Her upbeat, cheery tone of voice was in complete contrast of Karen's moodiness. The two were about the same age, both teenagers who've yet to reach their twenties.

Biting her lip, she avoided eye contact with her friend. "Huh? Oh, it's nothing."

She stuck her index fingers into her mouth, stretching it into a curve. "Cheese! I like it better when there's a smile on your face!"

Karen stared at her image for a few moments, before forcing a rather ugly grin onto her face. Her friend accepted it regardless.

"Anyway, I've scouted the area for enemy units, and I think I've found your sniper." She gave her a peace sign, a wink to ice the cake. "Don't you worry! Charlotte's Gold Experience going to show those meanies what happens when you try to put a bullet through her favourite butt!"

The tangerine-haired cringed for a split second. "Yeah, you do that. Don't get careless."

"No good luck or anything?"

Karen hit a button, cutting off the transmission. With the push of another, the cockpit opened up, the hatch forming a platform for her to cross onto the raised walkway that crossed her AMS's chest. A glance to the left, she spotted the golden twirls of Anastasia's hair.

"Your face is rather pale. Is there anything you wish to confide?"

"No." She stepped past her friend, her head hanging low.

Anastasia, leaning against the railings with her arms crossed, loudly proclaimed, "I was watching your performance out in the field. I understand that you're upset that you were unable to defeat an inferior unit. Understand this..." She paused as Karen's footsteps stopped. "Talented as we are, experience is what we lack. Some pilots can bridge the gap between us and them based on skill alone. To encounter someone who overpower us, that is only natural in war."

"I know that." Karen reached for the door, her voice cracking. "I'm just scared to die."

As she left, Anastasia stared up at the AMS docked beside the Red Rose. The unit was slightly larger, painted blue with black trims running down. Behind its waist, a massive rifle was held down by clamps, its length almost thrice the machine's width.

"We're all scared of dying, Karen. But we have to turn that fear into strength if we want to live."


"And that's the third turret."

Three ALTs stood high up on a cliffside, one holding a sniper rifle. They were half of Two's squad, the ones who split off from her, Nine and Seven. Their task was to take a safer route through a series of caverns to reach a vantage point for sniping. The Liner Research Facility's defence turrets were still active, and chances are that the enemies had reprogrammed the security for their benefit. The safest course of action was to destroy them from outside operation range.

"That damn Two." A lanky man sat in his ALT, legs crossed. His brown goatee was short, yet well-kept, proof of his attachment to the tuft of hair. "She relegated me to such a boring job. I'm a better pilot than her. Yet here she is, acting like she's in charge. Damn woman was from the militia, I came from the military. Who does she think she is, acting like she's the boss?"

Another man in a nearby machine replied, "Isn't she our commander because she came to our squad with a higher rank? It's only fair, One." He wiped the sweat off his unkempt raven hair, his screen zooming into the iron gates situated on the foot of a mountain.

"Yeah, but dammit, she's militia. She didn't receive proper formal training like I did. What does she know about tactics? You'd rather take orders from me, right, Three?"

The man shook nervously, afraid to voice his honest opinion. In the end, he opted to say what would make his brother-in-arm happy. "Y-Yeah. Sure. Of course. Haha."

"Well, if anything good came out of this, it's that I don't have to listen to that bastard Seven go 'Wahaha' again. God, I hope he gets shot down for good." One leaned back, slamming his heel on his screen. "If I have to put up with him for one more month, I might just shoot him myself."

"T-That's bad, dude." On Three's screen, target reticles surrounded another turret, a bar beneath it slowly rising to 100%. "Channel your anger towards the enemies. You'll only make things difficult for yourself if you attack your ally."

"Hmph. Either way, I pray to God, if that bastard even exists, that Seven goes down. No more 'Wahaha'."He licked his lip, a devious smirk on his face.

Three shook his head, finding it impossible to reach out to his ally. As the bar hit 90%, he opened a transmission to his other squad mate. "Alright, Five, it's almost full."

A live feed of a blonde girl widened on his screen. Though he said something to her, she didn't respond. On her face was a strange smile, and in her blank blue eyes was void. It almost seemed like she was staring off into the distance, her mind in a whole other world.

To put it as Nine once did, she looked like she was really, really high.

"Five, 93%... Get ready to shoot."

Three and Five's ALTs were built to work together. His was equipped with cameras and computers to help the Firing Control System to pick up objects from far distances, whereas hers was built with accuracy in mind. In a sense, he was the eye and she was the finger. Whatever his ALT detects, the information would be transmitted to hers and she would shoot it down.

"I don't get why you keep trying to talk to that damned drug addict." One groaned, rolling his eyes towards the snowy peaks. "She wouldn't even react if I snatched her underwear right off her ass. That woman's in some fantasy lala land."

"Five doesn't take drugs. She's just..." Three gulped, trying to find the right word to seem inoffensive. "Special. I've been with her for almost three years. She never says anything, but I can tell from her facial expressions what she's thinking."

"She's always smiling like a retard. Tell me what Little Miss Retard's thinking, why don't you?"

He gazed at the live feed, squinting his red eyes to further examine her. And, like a student reading off a textbook, he muttered, "One, go fuck yourself."

"Okay, now you're just looking for a fight, assho—"

Three cut him off when the bar was full. "100%! Five, transmitting!"

No words nor reaction, Five stayed static. But neither men could notice her pull the trigger. They did, however, notice the energy beam fired off her ALT's rifle, one that zipped straight through the snow. It travelled the distance that would take them five minutes by flight in an instant, and when it hit its target, the explosion was so far away that they couldn't see nor hear it.

Three quickly checked the state of the turret, and much to his delight, it was but a mess of scrap. "Right on target, good job. That's the fourth one." He called out to his vexed comrade. "What was it you wanted to say, One?"

"Five didn't think anything, you're just looking for a reason to cuss me out, aren't you?" His ALT brandished a blade, taking a combat stance. "I'm on this team to protect you from enemies, but I don't mind taking the two of you out and reporting back that an enemy unit attacked."

Teeth jittering, Three's jaw hanged wide open in absolute horror. "One... There's an enemy behind you."

"You think I'd fall for that? It's the oldest trick in the book. I turn around, and you shoot me in the back."

"No, there's really an enemy behind you."

"Stop trying to make a fool out of me."

A feminine voice suddenly blasted on their transmissions. "Enemy unit inbound! It was using jammers to hide its position! Guys! It's right next to you!"

One's stern faced hardened, and his heart started racing. Not even a second to look, something smashed into his ALT, causing him to jerk from the sheer impact. The golden unit behind him had slammed its pile bunker right into him.

"Mufufu... So you're the sniper team that tried to shoot Karen, huh? This is punishment for trying to take that fine butt away from me!"

Charlotte pulled a trigger on her lever, and that activated her unit's pile bunker. The stake was launched out upon detonation, a single casing flying out of the revolver-like weapon. The heavy tungsten punctured through One's ALT as if it were a piece of paper, and as she slid the stake out, a massive hole was left behind.

Statics went off in Three's speakers, a result of a faulty transmission. Far as he knew from experience, when an allied communication goes static, it's like they're dead. He couldn't grieve even if he wanted to; he wasn't very fond of One in the first place. At the moment, his one and only concern was to survive the encounter. A single glance toward the cavern they came from, and his strange partner's face flashed in his mind.

"Alicia! Escape! Use the route we came from! I'll hold the line!"

She didn't even show any worry nor concern. Only that smile. Yet he knew, he just knew, that she was reluctant to act for his safety would be in jeopardy.

"Don't worry about me! I'll rendezvous with you soon." He winked at her, shaping his hand like a gun. "We trained under the best after all, I know how to handle an AMS."

Without a response, Five dropped the sniper rifle and activated her thrusters. Her ALT flew right past Three and into the caverns. Charlotte gleamed over the escaping ALT, ready to give chase. However, the remaining ALT stood between her and her target, a blade drawn in its hand.

She chuckled. "Oh, you must have said something cute like... Go! Save yourself! Tell my wife I love her!" She bonked her head with her tongue stuck out. "So sorry you had to meet me today."

The ALT moved in and swung its blade. She stayed still, hands off the controls. When the blade struck, her cockpit shook a bit, but a simple glance would prove that the strike failed to dent her unit's thick armour.

Charlotte boasted, "The Gold Experience's armour is made from layers of titanium and chromium alloys! Nothing can penetrate it!" She then covered her lips with a sheepish giggle. "Unless I let you, of course. You need a lady's consent before penetration."

The blade started to crack, prompting Three to shriek like a little girl when it shattered. His hands were grasping the controls, yet he couldn't find the nerve to make his ALT move. The golden AMS that stood before him was only slightly taller than his, yet in his eyes, it looked like a titanic monster about to devour its prey.

"Now then..." Charlotte tugged onto the lever to her right, raising her unit's right arm. "Sorry, but you've got to go." With one thrust forward, she aimed to smash the pile bunker right into the ALT's chest, where the cockpit was situated.

Almost as if he found his courage, Three raised both of his ALT's arms right in front of the chest area, and the stake struck them instead. When Charlotte pulled the trigger, the resulting impact completely shattered both of his arms, yet the damage to the cockpit was minimized. His ALT fell to the snow, no defence to protect him from another blow.

Even in such a dire situation, he felt his pants tighten. He was terrified, yes, however, his fear was almost forgotten as a single thought ran through his head, "So cool!"

It was the first time he had seen a pile bunker in action. He was always told that the weapon was too impractical and difficult to be of viable use in a battlefield, but here he lay, struck down by that same weapon. The damage, the sheer power it possessed... it excited him. He was going to die, most definitely, but he believed that if he was to die being struck by such an awesome weapon, then it was a death worth dying. He grinned, fully accepting his fate.


The Gold Experience was shot by a rifle bullet. Not even guns were capable of scratching its tough armour. Still, it was an annoyance for Charlotte when her cockpit shook about, and she gleamed over toward the caverns where a single ALT stood. It was the ALT she struck down first.

She pouted at it, "Guess I didn't hit him right."

Three noticed it signal at him with its hand, flicking its fingers toward it again and again. Stepping on the pedal, he boosted right into the caverns as panels opened up on the ALT's shoulders. Charlotte moved in to give chase. But she stopped when the ALT fired missiles upwards, causing the cavern to fall apart and cave in, sealing her away from them.

She clicked her tongue. "Phooey." Spinning one tail around a finger, she simply smiled her disappointment away. "Oh well, at least they won't be a problem from now on."

With one step, she split the rifle Five used in half. Satisfied with the results, she flew off into the snowy skies.


"Wahaha! Just let me through already!"

Seven found difficulty against an enemy AMS that was in his way. The facility was right before him, and yet the single unit before him just wouldn't stay still long enough for him to shoot. Its attacks were just as predictable, and Seven was skilled enough to evade each and every one of them. Yet, the issue remained that neither could hit the other. It was a tiring stalemate.

Suddenly, over a transmission, a gravelly voice screamed,

"Special delivery, coming in hot!"

Like a meteor falling from the sky, an ALT crashed right into Seven's foe, smashing it down into the snow. As floating mess of snow dissipated, Seven recognized the machine as Nine's.

"Wahaha! Kept me waiting, huh?"

"Are there any other enemies remaining?" Two's voice spoke on their transmission.

"Wahaha! That was the last one. Good job, Nine, you took out one AMS." He glanced behind at the broken scraps of parts trailing behind him. "Out of six."

He shrugged. "I could've done that too. Don't get cocky."

"Don't argue." Two commanded, clicking on the earpiece. "Three, are you there? Respond. What's your situation? Are you at the vantage point?"

"One question at a time!" He shouted back. "Sigh. An enemy AMS showed up and totaled us. No casualties, and we managed to escape but..." His tone softened. "One's in awful shape. His ALT even worse. He fell unconscious, so I'll be towing him on the passenger's seat. And well... I lost my arms. My ALT's arms, I mean, not my actual arms."

"What about Five?"

"I made her get away first. We're backtracking through the route. At the moment, none of us are in any shape to fight. Five dropped her rifle to get the load off. Well, we cleared the turrets at the entrance, at the very least."

"Dammit." Two leaned back, adjusting her legs around the guitar. "You're authorized escape. Rendezvous with Five and make your way out. Please be careful."

"Hurray!" He cheered. "I mean, understood. Good luck to you."

The transmission cut off. Two called over to her bald senior, "Seven, the sniper team's out. One of us has to go in while the other has to stay in their ALT and protect the other. How well's your ammo gonna hold out?"

"Wahaha! Almost depleted. That last AMS was quite the pest!"

Nine tossed his rifle over to him. "Then use mine. It'll be better if two people go in than one. You can take on more than five. Take care of my ALT, yeah? My baby's in here."

"Wahaha! So you got the commander pregnant?! I knew you two were going AWOL!"

Two cringed, one nostril flaring up. "What?! No! He's talking about this stupid guitar!"

"Yeah, it's the guitar. If I come back and she ain't pretty, your head's not gonna be the only part of your body that's bald."

"Wahaha! She's in good hands then."

Two shifted said instrument to the side. "Let's go."

The ALT's thrusters lifted it off the snow, and it zoomed straight for the iron gates which were wide open. The turrets were destroyed, so it was a mere bee line past the gates. The inside was large enough to fit an entire squad of AMSs, however, due to the battle, it was empty. Shutting off the thrusters, Nine landed his ALT on its feet, making it kneel to make it easier for him and Two to get out.

Two glanced at the screen one last time and noticed a change in the mission objectives displayed on the top-left corner. "Activate the facility's self-destruct mechanism..."

Nine raised an eyebrow. "Huh, they didn't even bother telling us when they made that change. Jackasses. They tried to gun me down just now, y'know?"

"Well, to them, Zeroes like you and I are worth less than dirt. This is only natural."

"Guess so. We just gotta be better than them, I guess."

She patted his shoulder, starting her climb out the ALT. "Come on, the facility shouldn't be well-guarded at the moment. We should work fast before they send reinforcements."


The Gold Experience soared high in the sky, flying over the mountains. Its pilot hummed to herself, celebrating a job well done. She flew the unit with her hands folded behind her back, no care given to potential ambushes. There was nothing that could scathe her armour; that much she can boast. Her unit had finally reached allied territory, and she was flying closer to friendly AMSs.

She was almost about to fall asleep when a sudden transmission opened up, a woman appearing on her screen.

"Charlotte Fabre! Do you intend to sleep in the midst of battle?!"

"Eeek!" As if it were a natural response to the voice, she straightened her back and saluted. "Yes! I mean, no!"

The woman, who appeared to be in her mid-twenties, flicked at her mauve hair. "Carelessness leads to disaster. You're the third ranked Candidate, act according to your abilities. Your bout with the sniper team was awful." Crossing her arms, a furrow formed between her eyes. "If it weren't for the Gold Experience, I may not be speaking with you at this moment."

"Mean!" Charlotte pouted, pressing her index fingers together. "I-I mean, I played around a little, yeah, but it's because I could that I did. I know how to pilot an AMS just fine."

Her tone harshening, the woman sounded like a teacher scolding a student. "Your issue is not your abilities, it's your attitude toward work and effort. Your aptitudes during entry were stellar, even better than Anastasia. But your laziness holds you back. If you didn't put minimum effort into everything you did, you would be the first ranker of this program."

Charlotte started pinching at her hair, averting her gaze from the screen. "Uhm, with all due respect, I don't think now's a good time to lecture me." Her voice softened, fear cropping out from beneath her words. "I mean, I'm still not back yet, and uhm, I need to pay attention just in case uhm..."

"I'm lecturing you because I want you to pay attention! You were about to fall asleep in there again! Don't think I'll forget that time you crashed an AMS just because you slept in the middle of piloting it."

She bonked her head and with a lax tone, said, "Silly me."

Another transmission opened, this time an operator aboard the Jotunheim. In complete distress, she shouted,

"Enemy AMS detected! Five o'clock!"

Charlotte quickly turned back to look, yet all she saw on the mountain range was a flash of light. It was too late. The enemy fired a beam at her, the only thing that could tear through her heavy armour. But she had nothing to fret; the Twitch Armour would protect her.

Her cockpit jerked, and she was thrown aside. An allied AMS had pushed her out of the way, taking the attack meant for her. The beam tore through it, causing the internal mechanisms to overheat and explode. The AMS plunged toward the snowy grounds, a black trail of smoke left behind.

She gasped, guilt welling up within. Her savior definitely didn't know of her Twitch Armour, he didn't know he sacrificed his life for no reason. Fires burning in her amber eyes, she turned her attention to the assailant, and with a simple push of a button, launched a volley of missiles at it. The enemy was too late to move as he was engulfed in igneous explosions.

Her voice deepened, a sense of professionalism showing itself. Glancing her superior eye-to-eye and said, "We'll continue this conversation later, Sergeant Lucrescia." With that, she shut off the transmission and flew toward her savior.

The AMS was a wreck in that snow, definitely, but it was still very much intact. It didn't seem as if it could operate anymore, however. Charlotte reached her unit's arm out to its chest, then ripped the cockpit hatch straight out. On the seat was a boy, around her age, who sat unconscious, bleeding from the damage he sustained.

She bit her lip. Her superior was right, carelessness led to disaster, and now someone else paid the price. She zoomed in her camera closer to him, and much to her elation, icy fogs formed in front of his lips. He was breathing. With the load off her shoulders, she spoke her thoughts to him as if he were awake,

"Thank you for trying to save me. Now it's my turn to do the same."


Two and Nine hid behind a corner, pistols in hand. They peered out, eyeing the two guards armed with rifles. They kept their breaths soft, waiting for that perfect moment to strike. Two, who stood just as high as Nine's shoulder, started to sweat. Without realizing, a single drop slid off her chin.

"Who's there?!" One of the guards screamed, alerted by the tiny dripping noise.

"Hey, don't just shout out of nowhere. That dripping was from the ice melting."

"Sorry, I just really wanted to try that line out. Guard duty sucks."

A vein popped on Nine's head. "Dammit, these guys..." He came out from cover, hands in the air. "I surrender!"

The guards immediately pointed their rifles at him, beaming with excitement. "Slowly put your weapon down!"

"Kiss my ass!" Nine covered his eyes with one arm and swung his other down, aiming his pistol at them.

They didn't even wait. Their fingers tugged on the triggers, and they unloaded ammunition right into the scarfed man, gunfire echoing throughout the steel corridors.

Two slapped her palm against her face, showing nothing but irritation at the site of her comrade being gunned down. "Reckless as usual..." She reached behind, grabbing a single grenade strapped to her belt. Biting the pin off, she rolled the grenade toward the distracted guards.

"What in the world..."

The guards had emptied an entire clip of ammunition. They were too excited to see action that they didn't realize they were wasting all of it. But what shocked them even more was that the single target they were trying to shoot down was still standing, though he was bleeding out from the many bullet holes that covered his body.

"You done?" Nine lifted his hand, a wide grin plastered on his bloodied face. He then pointed at their feet, where a single grenade lied. "Next time—"


He couldn't even get a one-liner in before it went off. The excited guards were blown off their feet and fell in a singed, blackened mess.

"That was stupid!" Two came out from hiding to chastise him. "Dammit, you always do that! You know I don't like it!" She patted his chest and stomach, blood getting on her hand. "Are you hurt?"

He raised an eyebrow. "That's a dumb question. Of course I'm not." With his sleeve, he wiped his forehead, preventing the blood from leaking into his eyes. "I was built to take on this kind of crap! Wahaha!"

"Hey, don't go turning into Seven!" She stuck her finger into one bullet hole, trying to scrape the bullet out. "Gah, dammit, I have to be the one to take it out of you. You know how annoying that is?"

Despite her treating the wound so roughly, he showed no signs of pain. "It's fine! You used to be a nurse after all!" He brushed her hand aside, motioning toward the door. "Come on, we wanted to get this done quick. Time's a wasting."


Ignoring her order, he opened the door. The room was surrounded with computers and processors, large tubes scrawling the walls to moderate the temperature of the systems. Nine found himself wowed by what looked like a sci-fi movie, till he felt a metallic object push against his cheek.

"Don't move or I shoot." A man in a lab coat commanded, gun in hand. "Do you understand what you Imperials have done? It's inhumane. I cannot allow you to proceed any further."

He shrugged, not a sense of intimidation in his stance. "I'm well aware that Gestahl is pretty insane, but see here, I don't really care right now. I've got a job to do, and I've got to get it done. So, please, scooch over, you don't have to die today." He turned his head, holding his forehead against the gun's barrel.

"Human lives are not yours to play with! I'll risk my life if it'll keep the empire's hands away from these experiments! These things are too dangerous!"

"Listen here, I don't know or care what's going on, so please just—"


Nine's body swung back from the impact of the point blank shot. The bullet was lodged squarely on his forehead, but even so, he remained on his feet. The man paused for a good five seconds before letting out a disappointed sigh.

He glared at the scientist with utter contempt, blood flowing down his sharp nose. "I told you to move."

"W-What are you—"

Two emerged from behind Nine, having hidden behind his wide build. Not allowing him a chance to speak, she fired twice, and the man fell over, a pool of blood expanding beneath. She glanced over at her partner who was trying to scrape the bullet out his forehead.

"Always getting yourself shot..."

"I do it because I can." He winked at her, thumbs up. "I'm no stranger to the weirder side of the empire and their obsession with human experimentation; I'm one of their results after all."

She stepped over to the main control panel, where various, somewhat nonsensical buttons were spread all over. As she analyzed it, she spoke, "Look, I just get worried whenever someone I know gets shot. People die when they get shot, most of the time. But you let people turn you into cheese. I don't like seeing you covered in holes and blood."

"Because you wanna see my handsome face, right?"

She shouted back at him, cheeks flushed, "No one said you're handsome!" Shaking her head, she continued. "I'm just worried, okay? You're my subordinate, I have to look after you. Hm? Oh."

Her green eyes widened upon sighting a big red button which read 'Do Not Press'. It was almost cheesy how inexplicable it was, but it was obviously the button she was looking for. With a single push, the lights of the facility started to blink red, a siren bellowing.

A robotic voice started to repeat itself over the speakers on the corners, "Self-Destruct Sequence initiated, please evacuate the facility within ten minutes."

Nine grinned, hands on his waist. "Everything went better than expected. Alright, let's get out of here before we get blown up!"

"Wait!" Two glanced out the window behind the control panel. "What is that...?"

The view before them was of dozens of pods, all lined along the walls that stood twenty meters high. Under the flashing red light, the silhouette stored within the pods could be seen, and they vaguely resembled that of a human's. Two spotted a door to the right that led straight to that area, and without even a second thought, she rushed down to that area.

Nine's jaw dropped as he witnessed his commander. "Two, what the hell are you doing?!"

He gave chase, following her down a flight of stairs and into that area, where the pods covered every part of the circular walls. She was examining them, looking closely at the people stored inside.

In panic and under the deafening siren, he could only yell, "We gotta get out, you idiot!"

"They're all people! This is what he was talking about!" Two cried, her teeth clenched. "All these pods have people stored inside! They're alive, they've got to be! We can't just leave them here! They'll die!"

"Are you retarded?! We can't holler over all these pods! We only have one freakin' robot!"

She kept moving from pod to pod, examining the people kept inside. Men, women, they were all sleeping in there with a wired visor on their face, a skintight bodysuit to wear. They were all strangers to her, yet she felt sympathy for the state they were trapped in.

His patience ran out. He took her arm, attempting to pull her away, but what she screamed stopped him.

"It's a child! There's a child trapped in there!"

She forced her arm back, dashing toward a certain pod. Within, a petite girl slept; her silver hair running down to her knees. From her body, Two estimated that she was at most, thirteen. As a commander, she had always tried to keep a cool head, but she couldn't stand the sight of a child being forced into such an experiment, let alone die without knowing why.

"We have to save her!"

"Screw that!" Her partner shouted back. "They're experiments! We don't know what the empire did to them! For all we know, they could end up killing us! I know this shit, I got experimented on! These guys go crazy all the time!"

"All the more reason!" She slammed the butt of her pistol against the glass, failing to make a crack. "What could a kid like her do to deserve something like this?! I can't just go home knowing I left her here to die! If I can at least save one person—"

"Self-Destruct Sequence initiated, please evacuate the facility within nine minutes."

"We're running out of time!" He grabbed her by the shoulder, making another attempt to pull her away.

"No!" She screamed, elbowing him in the gut. With his hands off her, she spun about and delivered a kick that sent him two feet back. "I'm saving her no matter what!" She rushed back to the pod, smashing it over and over with her gun but to no avail.

The sirens kept going, a reminder that everything in the facility will fall. Nine knew; he understood that it was impossible to reason with her, that she would keep on trying even till the last second. She showed great talents as a leader, no argument, but her morality always made her become somewhat immature.

"Dammit! You're such an annoying bitch!" He stepped in front of her, pointer finger toward her face. "Promise me you won't get the rest of us involved if this shit goes wrong! This stupid girl will be your responsibility, got it?!"


Raising his fist, Nine punched the glass, shattering it completely. His hand was covered in shards, yet he simply flicked his wrist about, not a worry in his eye. Green fluids leaked out the pod, the girl gently floating down to the bottom as the fluid receded.

Two grabbed him by the side of the head. "Nine..." She then pecked him on the cheek, making him flinch. "Thank you!"

Heat rose up his cheeks, but he dismissed the act as a friendly gesture. He then helped her sever the visor off the girl's face, simply by yanking it off. Taking her out of the pod, Two carried the girl by the shoulder, finding ease thanks to her lack of weight.

The two exchanged glances. Without a word, they merely grinned at the other, finally coming to an agreement. Together, they dashed out, making their getaway.


"Wahaha! Took your time, you two! Did you happen to be going AWOL in there?"

Heaps of scrap surrounded Seven's ALT as Nine flew by. The latter opened a different transmission, this one providing a live feed to his bald friend. The image of a bloodied man showed up on the screen.

"Wahaha! I knew Two was quite the wild one!"

"No, you idiot!" She yelled back, cheeks red. "That idiot just went and got himself shot over and over. Sigh, when we get back, I'll be the one who has to get the bullets out. What a pain."

Seven stepped on the pedal, his ALT's thrusters lifting it off the ground. He flew it close to his comrades, all of them bearing a tired look that showed a hint of relief. Far as they knew, the mission was over. All that was left was to go home.

Nine wiped his face with his tattered scarf, casually talking. "Anyway, Seven, I lent you that Crimson King track like, two months ago. When are you going to give it back?"

"Wahaha! I still listen to it every now and again!"

"Hey, asshole, at least let me listen to it too. It wasn't easy getting my hands on it, you know?"

Two held the girl tightly, letting her rest on her lap. It was even more uncomfortable for her, now that she was sharing space with another person and Nine's guitar. "Do both of you have to argue all the time?" Her irritation showed in her tone of voice. "The mission's over, can't we just get along?"

"Wahaha! Sounds to me like you're the one who's angry!"

She didn't want to explain to him about the girl she rescued, preferring to leave it for when they returned. She grumbled, finally choosing to remain silent.

Nine glanced back at the two girls, raising his shoulders at the thought of their futures. He ended up speaking to his old friend instead. "Right. So, I want it back already, dammit. Seven, you know that Crimson King is on my top five list of bands. I haven't listened to them in a long—"

A blue beam flashed before them, and within an instant, it tore straight through Seven's ALT, melting through the steel machine like a hot knife through butter. His cockpit was struck, and the aging man could only leave one final message as the heat scorched his flesh.


Static. Two went pale as she watched her subordinate's machine explode, leaving a heap of junk to hurtle toward the grounds. Nine was frozen, a vein popping on his head. He couldn't control it. His feelings came bursting out in a fit of sorrow and anger.

"Seven, you dumbass! You're not supposed to die! You frickin' bald asshole!"

Far in the distance, beyond their eyes could see, a blue AMS stayed in place, steam pouring out of its massive rifle. Within, its pilot smirked, the words 'ALT destroyed' showing up on the corner of her screen. Hands on the controls, Anastasia turned her sights onto the remaining target.

"One down, one more to go."

To Be Continued

A/N: *British accent* Not yet! It's not over yet, Snake!

Yeah, looks like both of them have still gotta take care of one last problem. I wanted to portray this war story as a gray and gray sort of conflict. Yes, Anastasia just killed Seven, but she's not inherently evil. Two blew up two guys and then shot a scientist, but she's not really evil. In a bleak way, the only reason they have to kill is that they're on different sides, nothing more, nothing less.

No way around it, in the next chapter, it's Nine vs. Anastasia. That's the main battle for this 3-part chapter. Look forward to it~

Oh, yeah, and the main characters got introduced here. Sure, they don't have dialogue yet, but those are the main characters. Okay? Okay.