As usual, I’d like to thank the beta readers who helped me with this chapter – Desdendelle, Hieronymus Graubart, Iximaz, Mattman the Comet and Tesla.
Mission Record 06 – Echoes
“So, we have a bit of time to rest and think about our recent discoveries,” Sergio said as he was driving. “Let’s find a place where we can sleep, maybe a hotel?”
“Someplace that accepts yen, perhaps?” Nikki said as she looked into her wallet.
“Don’t worry, I get paid in euros. I should have enough to pay for at least one night.”
[I’ll try looking for a decent one with reasonable prices. This universe should have something like TripAdvisor, being based on World One, right?]
“I think so?” Sergio said while fiddling with the car’s stereo. “Anyways, anyone have an MP3 player or something? I can’t seem to find a decent channel.”
“Wait, I have an iPod,” Nikki said as she pulled out the device and an aux cable. After connecting the device to the stereo, she started looking for a song to play.
“Hm, not Manten, I heard enough sad stuff for today… ‘Miku miku ni shite ageru’? How did it end up here?… Oh, wait, this one. I think Homura will appreciate it.”
Sergio smiled after hearing the first notes. “Mata Ashita,” he sent through CODEC to Nikki. “Madoka’s character song?”
Nikki nodded. “It sounds like it’s sung as if she’s speaking to Homura, if you think about it.”
As soon as Aoi Yuuki started singing in Madoka’s voice, Homura’s eyes widened in surprise. After a few seconds, the black-haired girl relaxed and closed her eyes, listening carefully until the song was over.
“Thank you,” Homura said as soon as it finished. “I… Hearing her voice after all this time, I missed it. I miss her so much.”
“All this time? How long has it been?” Nikki asked while Homura wiped away some tears.
“About one and a half years.”
“That much? Wait, this means that you’re…”
“I’m turning sixteen in a few months’ time.”
“Well, that’s weird,” Sergio said, rubbing his chin in thought. “Considering how the Word Worlds work, it would’ve made more sense to snatch Madoka right after her ascension… and so we would be with the you from back then now.”
Homura raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”
[Time isn’t synchronized between the continua. Something to do with the fact that we’re all from different fictional worlds that are written and updated randomly, I guess. Anyways, the episode of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, the series you’re from, in which Madoka ascended aired more or less one and a half years ago.] Corolla leaned back on her chair. [Time wasn’t supposed to elapse in your world afterward in relation to the PPC’s standard time. Or something. Multidimensional physics are kinda confusing.]
“… I’m still trying to understand that I’m a fictional character whose life is written by someone else, actually,” Homura admitted.
“Well, as of now, nobody is writing us,” Nikki reassured her.
“You sure, Nikki?” Sergio asked. “Maybe that 14 year-old idiot who wrote me back in 2006 is still at it.”
[Before stuff descends into that, I want to warn our two gunslingers that we’re not allowed to go pay a visit to that guy or to Gen Urobuchi. I don’t even think portals would work for that, too. Anyways, take next one left and go on for 205 meters. There’s a small hotel there that looks just perfect.]
“Well, I guess it could be worse,” Sergio said as he opened the door of their hotel room. The walls and the furniture had seen better days, but the room looked clean. There wasn’t a lot of space in the room, however, as most of the floor space was occupied by a desk, a big wardrobe, and two beds: a double and a single one.
“I’m afraid you girls will have to share the big bed, but I think this is a decent enough accommodation. After all, we aren’t here on a vacation — we just need to get some sleep,” Sergio said. He put his backpack on the floor near the single bed and opened it. “If neither of you minds, I’m going to take a shower.”
“Sure, go ahead,” Nikki said as he went past her carrying a towel and pajamas. Once he closed the bathroom door behind him, she shook her head. “That’s so like him,” Nikki said, switching to Japanese.
At Homura’s quizzical stare, Nikki continued. “It’s pretty cold here in Germany, right? He decided to go first so he gets the cold bathroom — and then we get a warmer one if we want to get a shower later.”
Homura smiled softly. “He sure does care a lot about you, doesn’t he?”
“He cares about others much more than about himself… if he cares about himself at all,” Nikki said, looking down.
“I know someone like that,” Homura whispered.
“Hm? You mean Madoka… or yourself?”
Homura blinked before looking down. “I meant her… but it is true that I’d do anything to save her, even if it hurts me. I’ve never looked at that this way.”
“Maybe I have no right to talk… but I think such a belief is wrong,” Nikki said. “Now, don’t get me wrong, I do believe you’re right in giving it all for Madoka… but you, Madoka, Sergio, you all seem to forget that if you get hurt, if you get killed, there’s people who’re going to be worried, get sad.”
Homura looked at her, pondering her words.
“Besides, once you’re gone, you can’t protect your loved ones anymore, can you?” Nikki said. She shook her head. “Sorry, didn’t want to rant at you. It’s just… it gets frustrating when he doesn’t listen.”
“No, it’s fine. I think I got what you mean. Don’t die for those important for you, but live for them…?”
The discussion was interrupted by Sergio coming out of the bathroom, clad in his pajamas and rubbing a towel against his hair. “The bathroom’s pretty warm now, so if either of you wants to have a shower, I’d suggest taking it now.”
Just as Nikki said, Homura thought.
“Hm? There’s no hair dryer?” Nikki asked.
“Well, there is, but I—”
Nikki grabbed him by the arm and dragged him back into the bathroom. “You’re gonna get a cold this way, you know?”
“Nikki, I’m fine, I’ll just —”
Homura blinked a couple of times in surprise, then burst out in a loud, heartful laugh, the first one she had in a long time.
Corolla joined in Homura’s laugh. “And people still ask me why I’m trying to hook these two up.”
A few hours later, Nikki woke up. She blinked a couple of times, realizing where she actually was. Hm? That was a very weird dream…
Nikki rubbed her temples, trying to remember what it was about. There was… a giant robot spider? And then something about a trip to the future? Stuff like that. And she was fighting alongside Sergio, some various assorted canon characters including Syaoran, Tomoyo and Eriol from Cardcaptor Sakura, and many people she didn’t know, though one of them was… Kathleen? Sergio’s sister?
However, there was something else in that dream that felt weird. “Why was everyone calling me ‘Sakura’?” Nikki whispered. Maybe I should ask Corolla her opinion about it, she added in her thoughts.
On her bedside table, Vanguard lit up and a holographic window opened up over it. [Can’t sleep, Nikki?] Corolla said, rubbing her eyes.
Nikki shook her head. “No, I just had a strange dream,” she said telepathically to avoid waking up Sergio or Homura. “Want to hear about it? I can’t promise it will make sense, though.”
[Sure. Afraid you’ve had some sort of prophetic dream like Sakura does all the time?]
Nikki grabbed Vanguard and walked over to the window. “I hope not, but I wanted to hear what you think about it. Sorry if I woke you up.”
[Don’t worry about it. So, what was it all about?]
“Well, I was in Venice’s Piazza San Marco…”
Sergio found himself standing in a forest, during a heavy storm. The rain was pouring hard enough to be almost unbearable, and the darkness of the night was continuously interrupted by lightning strikes. How did I end up here?
He reached for his assault rifle, but there wasn’t anything on his back. The pistol’s holster was missing from his belt, too. Something’s fishy, I never leave my 92. Well, looks like I have no choice but to try to find a road?
After about a minute of walking, Sergio saw someone on his knees. The guy wasn’t facing him, but as Sergio neared the kneeling figure, he recognized the brown-haired silhouette. “Pyro? Is that you?”
Sergio ran over to him, but as soon as he touched him, Pyro fell to the ground, his skin pale and his eyes empty. Only then Sergio noticed the copper blades stuck in his friend’s chest.
Sergio recoiled, only to trip on what he assumed to be a tree’s root… except it wasn’t.
It was a girl with hazel hair and green eyes. Faith. She had a bullet wound in her chest, and she was lying in a puddle of blood, just as dead as Pyro was.
Sergio closed his eyes as he got up, fully knowing who he was going to see next… Kathleen. And, indeed, when he finally mustered up the courage to open his eyes, Kathleen was in front of him, sitting dead against a tree. Everywhere he turned, there were the corpses of his friends. Luna, Renè, Star, Kornel, Annie, Gea, James, Ami… everyone.
“What… what’s going on here? What the hell is this place?!” Sergio screamed, looking for a way out.
“This place is your sins,” said a familiar voice behind him. Sergio turned around and saw… her.
She was wearing a torn white dress and shackles at her wrists and ankles.
She stared at him with dull, sad eyes. “Isn’t this what you always wished for? Dead friends you can angst about… and me, all for yourself, forever bound to you?”
Sergio looked down and, indeed, there was a chain going from Sakura’s shackles to a metal ring around his left wrist. It can’t be… this thing wasn’t here a few moments ago!
“You seem disappointed. Don’t you Suvians love this kind of thing?” Sakura continued, her head slightly tilted sideways, disdain dripping from her voice.
“I never wanted any of this!” Sergio shouted back. “I would’ve given my life to protect any of them… I’d give my life to bring even a single one of them back!”
Sakura kept staring while the rain slowly turned into blood. “And yet, they’re all dead and you’re alive. What are you going to do now? Keep pretending you’re the great protector of canon, when you’re actually its worst enemy? Wrap that poor Nikki around your finger, since you can’t have me? And what will happen to little Corolla, will she die too?”
“Leave Nikki and Corolla out of this!” Sergio shouted, his voice already hoarse. He closed his eyes, only to suddenly hear a gunshot.
When he opened his eyes again Sakura was falling, a hole in the middle of her forehead, and in his right hand there was a smoking pistol. Sergio threw it away with a scream and looked for a way out, but everything was flooded in bloody water.
Then, something started tugging at his left arm. Sakura’s dead body was sinking, and the chain was dragging him after her.
Nikki kept looking out of the window, staring at the falling snow that was slowly covering the city. Christmas is coming up in a few days… I hope this will be over by then.
However, her mind went back to the disconcerting truth they had discovered during the Blackout. By next April, we won’t be at the PPC anymore… but it’s not like we have another place to go, do we? Does it mean…
Corolla was going to be still at the PPC, but no longer as a field agent. And, in that particular mission, she wasn’t with them either.
Nikki glanced at Sergio, who was facing away from her, asleep. Are we going to come back alive from this?
Sergio woke up from his nightmare. Looks like I’m not getting much sleep tonight, just as usual. He turned around, and saw Nikki looking out of the window, her skin and nightgown looking paler due to the light diffusing from the snow. I’m feeling a bit of a déjà vu about this…
<A few hours later, Sergio suddenly wakes up.>
Sergio: What a nightmare… four flat tyres and a blown engine a few meters from the finish line, and I was winning the race… What happened earlier shook me badly.
<Sergio walks towards the kitchen to get some water, but in a corridor he finds Sakura looking out of a window, the moonlight making her fair skin and her nightgown so white to make her look like a ghost.>
Sergio got up from his bed and grabbed his jacket before walking over to Nikki. Once close, he put it over her shoulders. “You don’t want to catch a cold, do you?”
Nikki turned around, surprised by the gesture.
<Sergio sees her shaken by a chill, and so he puts his jacket over her shoulders. Sakura turns around suddenly, as if she was scared, only to calm down as she recognizes him>
“Something on your mind?” Sergio asked.
Sergio: You’re still shaken, aren’t you?
“Is it about this mission?”
Nikki shook her head. “Yes and no. It’s more about… well… what we learned during the Blackout. I try to not think about it, but I am afraid we can die here, you know?”
“Yes, I know. But I’m not going to fall prey to despair just yet… and, if I know you as well as I think I do, you’re not going to, either.”
Nikki nodded again, but she still looked dubious.
Sergio: I can understand. Seeing death in the face is always scary. But it’s all over for now.
Sakura: Yes, but… next time? Already this time they… almost…
Sergio: Calm down. You’re with friends now.
<Sakura, though, is still shaken>
“Hm, there’s a coffee machine at the end of the corridor. What about some hot milk? It isn’t going to be as good as homemade honey milk, but might help you sleep.”
Nikki smiled. “That sounds like a good idea, yes.”
Sergio: I’m going to make some hot milk, do you want some?
<Sakura nods, a smile finally reappearing on her face. Sergio starts walking towards the kitchen.>
Sakura: Can you put some honey in it?
Some minutes later, Nikki sat on Sergio’s bed, a paper cup in her hands.
“How is it?” Sergio asked as he sat next to her.
Nikki took a sip from her cup. “Still better than the Cafeteria’s.”
“If we survived the Cafeteria’s food, I guess they’re going to have to try really hard to get us.”
Nikki let out a short laugh. “True. You know what I’m thinking? I’m not going to give up, either. Even if there’s only a small chance for us to get out of this alive… I want to grab it.”
<A few minutes later they’re both sitting on a sofa. Sakura is drinking her milk, and is slowly calming down.>
Sergio: Are you feeling a bit better?
Sakura: Yes… I just couldn’t sleep earlier.
Sergio: I can believe it. That was a close call, but we’re going to get through this.
Sakura: Are you sure?
Sergio: If I hadn’t always believed that, I wouldn’t be here telling it to you. I’ve been through a lot of stuff, I’ve been injured several times, but I never gave up. And, in the end, I’ve always made it through. Because those fighting for justice always are stronger for it. And they always win.
<Sakura still doesn’t seem to be 100% sure.>
“That’s what I wanted to hear, our story hasn’t been written yet. We’re getting Madoka and Sakura home, and then we’ll get home too,” Sergio said, before putting an arm around her shoulders. “Can I count on you?”
Nikki rested her head against his shoulder. “Always.”
Sergio: I know, this might be the wrong speech. But in my life I’ve only fought, I’m not very good with words. All I really wish for now, is to have the right words to calm you down.
<Sergio, in yet another attempt to calm her down, pulls her towards him in a hug slowly, carefully, to avoid hurting that delicate, scared cherry blossom.>
Sergio smiled. “And I will always be here for you.”
A few minutes later, Sergio glanced at her. “Well, I guess we should try to get some more sleep, shouldn’t we…? Nikki, are you sleeping?”
Indeed, Nikki was fast asleep, and Sergio let out a sigh. “I hope Corolla isn’t having a look right now, or she won’t shut up for weeks.”
Sergio: Whatever happens, I’ll always be by your side to protect you. Always.
<They remain that way, without speaking, for a while. A bit later, Sergio looks at her to see if she had calmed down, only to find her fast asleep leaning against him.>
Sergio: What do I do now? Knowing how much of a sleepyhead she is, she’s might be the last one to wake up tomorrow… and no one will be able to get the girls to shut up if they see us like this!
<Truth to be said, that was actually the last of his thoughts. What really mattered was that Sakura wasn’t so worried anymore. Thinking about it, Sergio realized that the right words weren’t something he needed only to calm her down when she was shaken. There was something important he had to tell her. Something on which their friends had joked, but was starting to worry him.>
Sergio let out a short laugh, thinking about what had happened six years earlier. “Here I am, doing the same thing again. I haven’t changed much, have I?”
Sergio looked up in thought. “I wasn’t sure whether confessing to her was the right thing to do… and in the end I chose the wrong option. And now?”
Sergio caressed Nikki’s hair. “Is it alright for me to love you, Nikki? Or am I just making the same mistake all over again?”
Luckily for him, Corolla was actually busy tapping yet another series of keywords into Google, looking for Sergio’s badfic of origin. The PPC’s database showed “Mai Dire Fine” as deleted, but the Unison Device could be pretty stubborn sometimes. She was curious, and there was a chance that a copy of the fic actually survived somewhere, which could be important considering Sergio’s past seemed to be involved in their current mess.
Of course, the original listed address wasn’t working — the whole blogging platform where it was hosted had gone under, apparently, but some of the early chapters had survived on the forum where it was originally posted. Corolla started reading them.
Hmm… No wonder Sergio’s so ashamed of his past. This fic’s quite terrible.
The Unison Device continued reading until one of the scenes felt oddly familiar. An uncanonical Clow Card taking the form of a giant, robotic spider shooting death rays from its eyes.
Hm? This is… part of that weird dream Nikki had? I don’t remember Sergio mentioning that thing at the bar, but maybe he did later when I wasn’t looking…?
The Unison Device reached the end of the forum thread. Well, I guess that’s it, unless the Wayback Machine has it.
Corolla rubbed her eyes. Hm, I should really go to sleep, she thought before going to the wardrobe to look for her pajamas. However, when she opened the door, some of Nikki’s clothes fell out of it.
She sure packed her bag in a hurry, Corolla thought as she started picking up the stuff that had fallen out.
Hm? This is the backpack she had when we first met her, she thought when it was the last thing left. She picked it up, but a small box fell out of it and tumbled under Sergio’s bed. Corolla left the backpack and went after the box.
Weird, it has something in Italian written on it… she thought after grabbing it. Only then she noticed Sergio’s “emergency” gun case near her. She looked at both objects before sighing.
I really shouldn’t be going through your stuff, guys, but if they can give me some help understanding what’s going on… Corolla thought as she opened both.
Nikki’s box turned out to be a small jewelry case, and it only contained a hairclip decorated with transparent cherry blossoms. Wow, it looks so fragile… is it Murano glass or something?
Corolla looked up in thought. Wait, isn’t Murano glass made in Venice? she thought before turning her attention to the gun case. Inside, as she had briefly seen when he took it out earlier during the day, there were some photos, a couple dog tags, and a few other little objects.
Corolla took out the photos first. They were all dated between 2006 and 2008, showing Sergio together with the people he was with at the time. She suppressed a laugh at one dated Christmas 2006. Well, that was sure a weird group. Isn’t that Conan from Detective Conan, too? And looks like the whole CCS gang was in that fic, too…
Something on Sakura’s head caught her attention. She squinted her eyes, trying to have a look at it. Hm? That hairclip…
Corolla took Nikki’s hairclip out of the box and put it near the photo. They’re identical. How…
The Unison Device turned the photo, looking at Sergio’s barely readable handwriting. It read ‘Villa Espasia, Venice, 25th December 2006”
Venice again. Are these two hairclips actually one and the same? But then, why would Nikki have it? Unless this Sakura, and Nikki… It can’t be…