This chapter has been in Development Hell for quite a bit, but it’s finally done! Thanks to Desdendelle, Firemagic, Hieronymus Graubart and Son_of_heaven176 for betaing!
Mission record 05 – A burden made of words
Sergio, Nikki and Homura sat at a table in the corner of a bar. Since they currently had no idea as to where to go next, resting for a bit in a comfortable place seemed like a good idea.
“So, I think it’s time for my little story?” Sergio asked after they had ordered some hot cocoa. “I think you know already some small bits, so let’s start from those.”
“Well, it’s not much,” Nikki admitted, “You mentioned having been both an Interpol agent and a soldier, you’re a pretty skilled gun-based fighter, almost scarily so — you surprised me when we were at the shipping company this afternoon — and something bad happened in your past. Something you feel guilty about and have nightmares about. A lot of them. Am I forgetting something, Corolla?”
[He’s got decent machine empathy there, considering what he can do with cars and small planes. Aside that, there’s this thing about being the Sixth Turbo, clone of the Third Turbo, or something,] Corolla added from her usual holographic window.
“Yeah, that’s a good point to start with. According to what Intel dug up, my author came up with several different alternate-universe Self Inserts all named the same way, one of which — the third one chronologically — was quite a bit of a Gary Stu.”
[And you, the sixth one, were an abandoned attempt to re-write the third one’s story into something decent, right?]
Sergio sighed. “Yes, that’s it… but I lied a little here. The sixth Turbo… well, doesn’t quite exist.”
“Wait,” Nikki interrupted him. “Does that mean…?”
“Yes. I am the third Turbo. And I used to be a Gary Stu.”
The waiter arrived with their order, interrupting him.
[But having been a Gary Stu years ago means nothing now, you know?] Corolla continued after the waiter went away. [The PPC has plenty of reformed Sues and Stus.]
“I agree,” Nikki backed Corolla up. “Ari is one, too, and I don’t think she’s making it a problem for herself.”
“I know,” Sergio admitted. “That’s why I need to tell you the whole story. Since the other Turbos were each from their own badfics, I think we can forget about them. As for my story, let’s start from the beginning. There was this evil-overlord-wannabe-type villain, known only as Marcus. I later discovered his full name to be Marco Leone, but this doesn’t matter now.”
“Yeah. What interests us now is that he had this long-term project for engineering the perfect second-in-command for his criminal activities — his own Dragon, to use a TVTropes term. As far as I know, there were three distinct phases for this, but none of them were very successful. Let’s go in order.
“The Mark 0 phase dates back to the early nineties. He experimented on his child while she was still in her mother’s womb in order to try to create an artificial esper. You know, someone with telekinesis, telepathy, that kind of stuff; I never discovered the exact details. It kinda worked: the girl who was born did indeed have that kind of power, but she had troubles controlling it and never quite enjoyed obeying him. So in the end our Marcus ended up with a spanner in his works instead.”
“While she was still in her mother’s… Wait, how could her mother agree to that?” Nikki asked, horrified by the idea.
“I don’t think they asked for her opinion, and frankly, I don’t know anything else about that woman. The girl, Kathleen, never talked about her. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she was killed shortly afterwards, considering that Kathleen was mainly raised by her aunt for all I know. But let’s continue with our small excursus.
“The Mark I phase started around 2000. After discarding the goal of imbuing esper powers, and with the help of more advanced technology than that of the Mark 0 phase, Marcus decided to go with genetic engineering, artificial aging and advanced conditioning to build Marcus Junior, his Dragon—and he managed to mess up that too. He did create a skilled fighter — only one that didn’t quite like the idea of fighting for the Dark Side. After about a year, the kid escaped, ended up losing his memories, and when prompted to come up with a name for himself by the doctors at the hospital he was brought to after being found unconscious on the road, he used an article about the Ferrari F40 in a magazine to come up with it.
“That car has a turbocharged three liter V8 engine and was designed by Sergio Pininfarina. Do the math.”
“Corolla wins a teddy bear. Well, yeah, it isn’t that great of a name but at ten years old I thought it was cool, and… well, it’s my name now. I can’t see myself changing it now or ever. Anyways, for reasons I won’t go into detail on here because, well, badfic stupidity, I ended up becoming an Interpol investigator when I really should have been at school. And ended up clashing with my own ‘father’ several times.
“Long story short, some years later, in 2006, I kinda ended up with this group of ‘meddling kids’ roughly around my age fighting the evil Black Organization that intended to take over the world. Some of us were self-inserts like I was, some were OCs, and there were several canon characters from some random assorted continua as well. The main continuum was an Italian book series called Nina, the child of the Sixth Moon, but there were several animes, like Detective Conan and Cardcaptor Sakura, involved as well. So, in one nonsensical adventure after another, we ended up racking up what would have been a rather impressive charge list if the PPC ever bothered to pay us a visit.
“In fact, any PPC Agent taking on the fic would’ve sentenced me to death. Let’s just get the big stuff on the table already: I myself broke two of the most important CLAMP Universe rules — ‘One True Soulmate’ and ‘All Deaths Are Final’.”
Sergio sighed. “I think you can guess why I can’t feel comfortable in a relationship with Nikki now. Not only because of who I am, not only because I don’t know how much of ‘Nikki as herself’ and how much of ‘Nikki as Sakura’ I like, but also because I don’t know how much she really likes me… or how much of it is just Stufluence subconsciously bringing another ‘Sakura’ to love me.”
The Agent looked down. “I prefer to live forever alone than to live with the doubt that I’m forcing you to love me, Nikki.”
“You aren’t!” Nikki screamed. “I like you for what you are now, and I don’t see a Gary Stu here!”
“Are you completely sure?”
“I… don’t know.” Nikki admitted, “But we have a way to see that.”
The brunette pulled out her C-CAD and pointed it at Sergio. The machine did a strange winding up noise, before shorting out and emitting a small puff of smoke.
“I’ve never been able to get a CAD reading of myself,” Sergio said tiredly, “I went through two or three different CAD generations, and yet they all seem to find me too confusing.” Sergio let out a short laugh. “The ones that didn’t go out had all sorts of funny readings. Like ‘I’m sorry Dave, I can’t do that’ or simply ‘No.’ Most useful one was a mini-CAD from the Department of Fictional Psychology: ‘Listen, he’s complicated, but he’s fit for the Duty so leave me alone’.”
[How did you end up in the PPC, then?]
“Well, that will also answer why I have so many nightmares about my past. I joined the PPC in January 2009, but I was only present in my fanfiction of origin until early 2007 or so. That was when, pardon my language, the shit hit the fan. We were a bunch of kids between ten and fifteen years old against a full-on criminal organization — we thwarted their plans several times, but it wasn’t going to last. We took casualties twice, and twice we found ways to revert their deaths, but the third one to fall stayed down. Granted, due to some sort of magic bond going in his family he would come back to life after a year if his evil twin brother was alive and certain other conditions were met, but it still put us under pressure. So we came up with a plan that … well, “crazy” would be quite the understatement when you try to describe it.
“We knew that the Black Organization had some sort of big plan going on that was bound to be put in motion very soon, but we knew next to nothing about it. So Kathleen, who was fighting on our side, came up with this great idea: use her powers to transport us forward in time six months to witness their plan, with half of us faking a defection to their side. We would then go back to the present time to prevent it from happening. It worked in theory: we discovered how the Black Organization took over the world in March 2007… and then we got stuck there.
“The Marcus in the future didn’t fall for Kathleen’s covert operation, though, and ordered her killed. Twice. The first time her cousin… no, our cousin Faith took the bullet for her. The second time… the bullet hit its intended target.”
Nikki put a hand on his shoulder. “I feel sorry for you. They were pretty much your family, right? Seeing them die without being able to do anything for them… it must’ve been terrible.”
“It was. Especially considering that, while Kath got a sniper bullet in the gut… I was the one who actually ended her life afterwards.” Sergio said, looking down again.
“She hadn’t been killed on the spot, but we couldn’t save her anyways. The ones among us who had some healing ability tried to cure the wound, but all they could do was to slow the bleeding a bit. She was still going to die slowly and painfully. So she… she told me… ‘spare me the suffering’.”
From under his shirt, the Agent pulled out a string holding a rather strange cartridge casing. It was shaped like the casing of a pistol round, but it was a lot bigger than those of the 9mm rounds he used in his Beretta. Nikki and Corolla were quite surprised by the gesture — they had never noticed that he was wearing that improvised necklace before.
“This is a .50 Action Express cartridge casing. I think Homura’s familiar with it — it’s used in the IMI Desert Eagle handgun… or, rather, hand cannon.”
Homura nodded slowly. It was one of the first guns she obtained in her early Puella Magi days, stolen from a Yakuza member’s locker. She had long stopped using it — military handguns like the Beretta M9 were easier to handle, and military bases had larger quantities of ammo for it than for the Desert Eagle.
The Desert Eagle was also the gun that she had used to put a bullet through Madoka’s Soul Gem on her own request in one of the earlier timelines, in a similar mercy-kill scenario, so she was understandably avoiding using it.
“Don’t worry, I was never such a Stu to actually carry one myself,” Sergio continued. “I had lost my handgun earlier and the only other member of my group who had a pistol had that. I used that gun exactly twice: once to… you already know, and once against the one who caused me to have to.”
Sergio got out of his car and walked towards a crashed Dodge Viper. The white and blue sports car was overturned, and fuel leaked from it.
“She was a sniper from the Black Organization. I don’t know her real name, but she went by the codename Chianti. Like the wine.”
Sergio stopped near the driver’s door. A rather young woman dressed in a leather suit was trying to crawl out of it.
“In a way it’s like she never was involved, as she’s a Detective Conan canon character.”
Sergio aimed the Desert Eagle and fired.
“Obviously I had no idea at the time, so I killed her. OK, she isn’t dead now due to canon snapping back and such, and she’s also pretty much of a psycho in-canon, but still: I killed a canon character. Anyways, I had kept the casing for the first shot, used it to make the cartridge for the second, and here it is.”
The Agent clutched the casing, sighing. “As much as I hate it, the only thing I have left of who, in a way, was my sister is the casing of the round that took her life.”
Sergio took a deep breath and continued. “After Kathleen’s death, we were stuck in the bad future. We kept fighting, obviously, but the Organization’s true strength was too much for us. They had the entire world under their control, we were outnumbered and outgunned. When we heard that the Organization had developed a prototype time machine, we tried to seize it in the hope of sending one of us back to warn our past selves… basically a suicide mission for everyone else.
“At the beginning, there were six of us, and by the time we reached our goal, half of us were already dead. And then we discovered it was a trap: there was no time machine. We fought fiercely, but in the end, I was the only one left standing. My friends and allies were all dead or had disappeared… well, the ones who were canon characters probably just snapped back to canon. All the Organization members who set up the ambush were dead, too.
“At the time I had an M16 assault rifle and a couple of laser stun guns. They kinda were my signature weapons, as I wanted to avoid killing unless strictly necessary.”
[Stun laser? How’s that even supposed to work?] Corolla wondered.
“It was that kind of fic. Long story short, I kinda managed to make it look like I had died in the fight too, leaving my laser guns behind and all — not so far from the truth, as I feel like part of me did die that day — and swore two things to myself: that I would take down the Black Organization, no matter the cost; and that I would always shoot to kill.
“Before then, I always tried to capture the villains non-lethally. Arrest them, so that they would be properly judged and all. But this also let many of my enemies escape, and that bit us in the backside. Hard.”
[Now I really understand your “shoot first, ask questions later” approach with Sues.]
“I just don’t want the same things to happen again… nor do I want to fall back to what I did afterwards.
“I had nothing to lose, and the Organization had to be stopped, so I became ruthless. I hunted down info about their leaders’ location — and hunted their men like they were pests. Every time I infiltrated a facility, I made sure to leave no survivors. It was easy to me… too easy. But I was engineered to be able to do that. Written to be able to do that.”
Sergio leaned back on his chair, his eyes closed. “Was I even human at that point? Probably not, and I had kinda realized it. When I found out that the leaders, including Marcus, were going to have a victory celebration, I sneaked in the building on that day, planted some explosive charges and detonated them without leaving first. Killed the head of the serpent, the body would have died too… and there wouldn’t have been any reason for someone like me to continue to live afterwards.
“But, as you can guess, I didn’t die. I think the explosion sent me straight into a plothole — that fic was so full of them it would be hardly surprising — because I later woke up in Tomoeda’s King Penguin Park.”
[Tomoeda? Sakura’s hometown?]
“The very same. I had landed in another badfic, and I witnessed a pair of PPC Agents following, charging and killing a Sue. Listening to them, I realized that I wasn’t any different from the abomination they had just put down. But… I didn’t want to be a Stu anymore. I wanted to atone for my sins, and I thought that the only way to do so was to start chasing Sues and Stus myself.”
“And so you joined the PPC?” Nikki asked.
Sergio shook his head no. “That would still be much later. For some months, I just kept preventing Suvians from harming Sakura and her friends. You know, while in my badfic of origin I had promised that I would always protect her, she wasn’t supposed to love me. Hell, she wasn’t supposed to even know me. But I saw no reason to break that promise. So I kept protecting her from the shadows, jumping from plothole to plothole.
“In the beginning, I tried to make other Sues and Stus understand the same thing I did — but none listened. As time went on, I fell back into being a ruthless hunter.”
Bullets zipped between the trees as Samantha Kuroyami ran desperately for her life. Everything was going so well — Syaoran had just admitted his eternal love for her! — and now someone was shooting her.
“I was brutal.”
Cornered against a tree, Samantha pulled out her magical sword and lunged at her black hooded chaser in a desperate counterattack. Her stabbing blow was parried, though, the blade getting stuck in the carrying handle of the figure’s assault rifle.
“So much so that I was more of a feral animal or a berserk weapon than a human.”
Sergio threw away his rifle, causing the girl to lose grip of her sword. The boy pulled out a combat knife and stabbed the Sue straight in the heart, before turning her around and slashing her throat too.
“Luckily, before I completely lost it, one of the plotholes that I used to travel between badfics actually brought me back to my world. The place was rather messed up: even if the Organization itself was gone, the 2007 Black Organization War left a deeply destabilized world.”
“… You were talking about that organization, that war?” Homura asked.
Sergio raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”
“I thought you were talking about a different world, but that war happened in mine.”
“… Wait, what? The 2007 Black Organization War shouldn’t have happened in your world! It is something that, as far as I know, is related only to mine,” Sergio rebutted.
[Wait, I found something here in the PPC records,] Corolla interrupted. [Sergio, after the canon characters disappeared from your world, it kinda became its own continuum. It even got a CIC: MDF-2006-413-QT. However, here it says that it doesn’t exist anymore, as it had later been absorbed in another continuum that was forming at the time. Let’s see here… the CIC is FST-1808-211-GU.
[Wait, what’s going on here? That’s Homura’s continuum!]
Sergio frowned and rubbed his temples. “Just what we needed. Another mess to deal with.”
“I’m not sure I understood what she said,” Homura admitted.
“Long story short, my war happened in your world because our worlds kinda fused up. Which means that we have to find what caused that, and a way to fix the situation.” Sergio explained. “Damn, this thing is getting out of hand quickly.”
Nikki looked up in thought. “Well, considering that Ami girl seems to be involved, too, I guess that once we save Madoka and Sakura and get who kidnapped them, canon might snap back? “By the way, you didn’t tell us anything about Ami yet.”
“You’re right,” Sergio said. “I guess we should get back to my little story: after seeing the state my world was in, I joined Strike Dove Inc., a private military company that offered its services to governments in need to stop dictators or terrorists. It’s there that I met Ami. However, after about a year, we got ambushed during a mission, and Ami died. I later discovered that the ambush had been ordered by another SDI operative, Vera Heartbound.”
“Vera was a Sue, and I had fallen right into her story. Initially, we were all in the same squad, but we never got along, so we ended up splitting into Raven Team, composed by her and our other teammate, James; and Skystreaker Team, me and Ami.
“After our team was preferred for an operation for one time too many, Vera started to fear that I was going to overshadow her. So she decided to take me and Ami down. As soon as I discovered that she was behind the ambush, I confronted her and managed to take her down as SDI’s base started to crumble. The whole PMC was her invention, though, and after taking her down, her grip on my world subsided.
“Outside, I found two fresh PPC recruits who were given Vera’s fic as a first assignment. Since I kinda wasn’t supposed to be there, I was not in the Words, and so they had no idea about what to do. At that point I accepted the offer to join because, well, killing Suvians was pretty much what I was already doing. At least with the PPC, I would be paid for it. Still, during my interview I instantly fell at odds with the Marquis.
“I objected that if the Suvian were terminated as soon as they were identified as such, deaths like Ami’s could be prevented. But that isn’t standard PPC procedure. That’s why I don’t get along with the stupid daisy. Anyways, since then I have worked for the PPC, and here I am.”
“Now I understand why your past is such a burden to you,” Nikki said, getting up from her chair. The brunette walked over to her partner and hugged him. “However, don’t make the mistake of thinking that you’re evil or something. You’re much better than that… you’ve shown it plenty of times since we met.”
“Evil? If what he said is true, he’s one of the Kids of the War!” Homura added, “He’s a hero!”
“No, I am not,” Sergio rebutted, looking hurt. “I only was a Stu trying to be cool, and afterwards I just kept trying to fix the mess I made myself. My old friends were heroes… They stood the line, and died standing. You are a hero, Homura. If it weren’t for you, Madoka would have never been able to ascend and prevent Witches from existing.”
“I did that by mistake. I just wanted to save Madoka’s life, allow her to have a happy life! And on that goal, I failed!” Homura screamed, raising up and slamming her palms on the table. Luckily, no one in the almost-empty bar seemed to notice or care.
Nikki, who was still hugging Sergio, blinked a couple of times. “… OK, this is weird, so can we stop it?
[I agree,] Corolla echoed her. [We kinda have a bigger problem to deal with here, and angsting won’t solve anything. And the problem is: what the heck is up with this mission?]
Sergio rubbed his chin in thought. “Let’s see what we have so far: someone kidnapped two Magical Girls from two different continua, attempted to kidnap a third one, and developed a system to keep them enslaved. So far, it looks like a ploy to sell anime characters to the highest bidder or something like that.”
“But then they started toying with us with ambushes, as you said,” Nikki continued, “and then this Ami girl showed up.”
[Which she shouldn’t, because she’s dead, and even if she wasn’t… well, how does she know all about this situation? Especially about Madoka and Homura, I mean.]
Homura looked down in thought for a couple of seconds. “What if she was a Puella Magi?”
Nikki and Corolla looked at Sergio. “Is it possible?”
Sergio crossed his arms. “Not as far as I remember; there was no such thing as Puella Magi in my universe, and if it wasn’t for that fusion, there shouldn’t be even now. But… if she became one retroactively — and I have reasons to believe that she would contract if given the chance — then the Law of Cycles would’ve taken her when she died. So even that doesn’t explain how she descended back into the physical world, or why the heck we’re even dealing with a freaking continuum fusion in the first place.”
[Well, what we came up with is still something, I guess. Still, I—] Corolla was interrupted by a ping apparently coming from the console. [Wait, I got the results of a little search I decided to make. Let’s see… Oh. I’m afraid Sergio’s theory about the reason behind the kidnappings is true.]
“What did you find?” Nikki asked.
[Well, I did some Internet research about anime auctions and stuff, and turns out that there’s going to be a rather weird one tomorrow evening not far from where you are. It’s set during a formal, invitation-only dinner, and… well, I found rumors about this one in other universes’ Internets too, which is strange. And apparently there will be some “special, one-of-a-kind merchandise”. I think we know what they’re talking about.”
“Corolla, you’re a genius,” Sergio congratulated her. “That’s exactly what we needed to know.”
“So, what’s the plan?” Homura asked.
[Oh, I have one, I have one!] Corolla yelled out, waving an arm to catch their attention. [I think I have enough time to try to trace back the computer from which the announcement came and add a couple more guests to the list. This way you can enter without attracting attention and gunfire. What do you think?”
Sergio smiled. “I think that we’re going to a party then.”