Blank Sprite – Mission Record 07

I want to thank Hieronymus Graubart and Eatpraylove for betaing this chapter.

 

Mission Record 07 – Mr. Turbo, I expect you to dine

 

“My name is Turbo, Sergio Turbo,” Sergio said, looking into the mirror attached to the wardrobe’s door. He had set the DORKS to outfit him in a tuxedo, and was holding his pistol over his chest in the most typical Bond pose. He let out a short laugh before putting the gun away under the jacket. “Yep, it’s just as silly as it sounds.”

[That isn’t going to work,] Corolla said from her usual holographic window.

“I know, right? We’re using false identities, it would be stupid to introduce myself like that.”

[No, no, no, I wasn’t talking about that! It’s how you’re dressed!]

Sergio looked down, and raised an eyebrow as he couldn’t find anything wrong. “It’s a tuxedo. Isn’t it what I need?”

Corolla facepalmed. [Yes, it is. But the bowtie and handkerchief are wrong! They must match Nikki’s dress, and yours don’t even match each other!]

Sergio blinked a couple of times. “They have to? Anyways, I can’t match them with Nikki’s dress if I have no idea how it looks, don’t you think?”

Corolla shook her head. [It has to be a surprise! And, besides, I’m still working on that, so… Uh. You have a point, I’m afraid.]

The Unison Device tapped something quickly on a holographic keyboard, causing Sergio’s black bowtie and the white handkerchief in his jacket’s pocket to become both red. After having a quick look at them, Sergio glanced at the bathroom’s door. “I hope the color isn’t the only thing you’ve settled on in over an hour.”

[Don’t worry, just wait and see!] Corolla said before closing the window.

Sergio shook his head and turned towards Homura, who had raised an eyebrow. “What can I say? She’s a bit crazy, but I wouldn’t replace her with anyone else. Anyways, while Corolla finishes impersonating Tomoyo, shall we review the plan? Well, such as it is.”

Homura nodded. “You and Nikki enter the party as guests while I sneak in from the rear.”

“So we’re going to finally catch whoever is behind this while you find Madoka and Sakura,” Sergio confirmed. “Try to not be seen as much as possible, though — if you have to take down some Defectives, try to do that silently. We’re going to be in the belly of the beast, so it would be better for everyone involved to not cause a firefight.”

Homura transformed and pulled a submachine gun out of her shield. “Would this work? It’s silenced.”

Sergio took the gun and inspected it. “A Heckler&Koch MP5SD… Three, I think? Or maybe a six? Anyways, it definitely works. Mind you, a suppressor doesn’t make a weapon completely silent, so take your shots carefully. Single shots, short bursts at most — the suppressor will last longer, and you’ll be more accurate. And, more importantly, aim from the shoulder; I’m quite surprised that you actually hit stuff while shooting from the hip.”

Homura nodded as Sergio handed back the weapon. He looked like he was going to say something else, but the bathroom’s door opened.

“Finally,” Nikki said as she walked out. “Corolla made me try on so many dresses; she would’ve put Tomoyo to shame. So, what do you think?”

Sergio found himself unable to speak. She was wearing a simple, knee-length strapless red dress, sprinkled with a lot of fake rose petals. More petals were on her shoulders, with no apparent way to stay attached. To him, she was nothing short of gorgeous.

[I think that’s a critical hit,] Corolla said cheerfully from her holographic window. [So, did I do a good job?]

“A-absolutely,” Sergio said. Damn it, here I am, stuttering like a harem comedy protagonist. He also nearly facepalmed after realizing that there wasn’t anything weird about the petals on Nikki’s shoulders — there was actually some transparent fabric underneath holding them in place.

Homura could do nothing but sigh in defeat after remembering that, after all, her current allies were still a bit weird. She ignored the bantering between Sergio and Corolla, and looked out of the window. Madoka… Are you alright? Or will I find you suffering once again?

 

Madoka and Sakura, hugging each other and shaking like leaves, kept staring at the phrase written in front of them. You’re dead, written in red letters dripping like blood.

“I… I’m scared.” Sakura said.

Madoka nodded in agreement. “Let’s… let’s change the game.”

The terrified Goddess of Hope walked over to the television set, and popped open the disk tray of the somewhat generic game console attached to it. A zombie shooter had been a terrible choice to pass their captivity time.

 

“I’m Guido Piano, and this is Tsubasa Ohka, my fiancée. We have an invite,” Sergio said, handing a printed sheet to the Defective stationed at the mansion’s entrance. The bit character gave a quick glance to the invite before mechanically showing them in.

I can’t believe such a formal auction sends emails to be printed as invites,” Nikki said telepathically as they walked.

True, this is more in line with what some comics fairs do with cosplayers… maybe our culprit, Suvian or not, is an anime fanboy or fangirl after all,” Sergio replied just as they entered what looked like a very big ballroom. Some long buffet tables and many smaller, round ones were lined along three of the walls, and attached to the last one there was a stage with a podium on it, from which the auction was presumably going to be held. There weren’t many people, though — at a quick glance, even if everyone was sitting at the same time more than half of the tables would remain empty.

Okay, we’re in,” Sergio sent out to Corolla.

[Good. If everything goes as scheduled, the auction will begin in about one hour, so I guess you’d better try to blend in until then.]

A Defective in a waiter uniform passed them with a tray of champagne glasses, and Sergio took two, offering one to Nikki.

You know I’m not old enough to drink, right?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.

I know, and I’m not going to drink either, alcohol now would be a terrible idea. Just pretend to take a sip from time to time, it will make our cover more believable.”

In spite of what he had just said, Sergio took a little sip out of curiosity. Sure, it was sparkly and the taste was wine-ish, but it certainly wasn’t a fine wine. “You’re not missing anything; this thing is just Generic Champagne.”

 

Homura slipped into the mansion’s basement through an open window. The place wasn’t very well lit, and consisted of one single, very big room taking the entirety of the basement itself, with pillars at regular intervals and a few wooden crates on the floor.

I’m in too.” she sent out as she hid behind one of the crates to avoid being spotted by a couple of Defectives.

[Then we’re all set! It doesn’t look like Madoka and Sakura are there, but I’d suggest having a look at the crates just in case. Sergio gave you his C-CAD, right?”]

Homura pulled out the device from her shield, and pressed the power switch. The screen lit up, showing Combined Content Analysis Device Mk. I — Please Stand By for a few seconds before changing to Please scan a character. “Will this thing actually work?

[They usually do. Sometimes they die, like Nikki’s did while trying to scan Sergio… but you should be fine unless you run into a Sue.]

Still dubious, Homura pointed the device at herself and pressed the Scan button.

[Homura Akemi. Puella Magi Madoka Magica canon cha— Wait a minute, how did you get hold of me and why are you scanning yourself?]

Homura nearly dropped the device in surprise. “… Is this thing alive?”

[That, or whoever programmed these really thought of everything. Anyways, aim it around. I doubt the girls have been stuck in the crates, but you never know. Hmm, how can we distract those two Defectives while you look around…?]

Homura pulled out the suppressed submachine gun from her shield. Stock against the shoulder, aim down the sights, short bursts…The two Defectives went down without even realizing what was happening.

[…Or you could just kill them. As usual.] Corolla sighed.

 

Sergio, sitting at one of the tables, glanced at the center of the ballroom. Anime music was playing, and so some people were dancing to its tune. Well, more or less. Sergio was pretty sure My Spiritual Garden, if it could be danced to at all, wasn’t meant as waltz music.

Nikki sat next to him with a sigh.

“So, what did those girls want?” Sergio asked.

“They were a group of cosplayers. They were looking for new members, and they said I would’ve been perfect for Princess Sakura from Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle:”

Sergio let out a short laugh. “That would be cheating, wouldn’t it?”

Nikki nodded. “Pretty much.”

Sergio looked at his wristwatch. “Still ten minutes left before our kidnappers will show their hand. Or, at least, I hope.

Nikki looked intently at the bubbles in her untouched glass. The more she wanted the wait to be quick, the more time seemed to slow down. Then, the song switched to Garnet Moon by Hitomi Shimatani.

“I like this one!” Nikki said. She looked at the dance floor, then at Sergio. There might be only a few chances left to spend time with him, so…

“Eh…? What are you…?” Sergio asked in surprise as Nikki started dragging him towards the middle of the ballroom.

“Well, we still have some time to pass, so…”

“But I can’t dance at all!”

“Don’t worry about it; I’m not going to judge you. Just… let’s have some fun for once, can we?” Nikki said, smiling.

Sergio shook his head and let her have her way. How could he say no to such a smile?

 

They aren’t here, either.” Homura sent out as she finished searching the mansion’s upper floor.

[It’s almost time for the auction to start, so maybe they were already brought near the ballroom?] Corolla wondered.

Homura started running towards the stairs. “Then we have no time to lose.

 

Despite having to improvise every single step, Sergio found himself having more fun than he had imagined. What pleased him most was the look on Nikki’s face. She looks happier than I’ve ever seen her, he thought. It’s a shame that the only life I can offer her is a life of fighting.

He tried to get the thought out of his head. If Nikki were to notice a thoughtful look on his face, it would ruin her moment of happiness.

[Uh, sorry to intrude, guys, but we have a problem,] Corolla interrupted. [We weren’t able to find Madoka or Sakura anywhere on the other floors. Homura’s starting to check your floor, but we might have to free them during the auction itself.]

Got it,” Sergio said, struggling to keep pace in the last steps. Luckily for him, the song ended soon afterwards, with the lights going out too. A spotlight turned on, illuminating a blonde woman walking towards the podium.

Nikki squinted, trying to get a better look at her. She was wearing a long black dress with a ridiculously high split and a similarly ridiculously exposed cleavage, and her proportions were a bit too perfect. Her eyes were, of course, sapphire blue and large.

I don’t need my CAD to tell she’s a Sue,” Nikki said telepathically. “Do you think she’s the one behind this?”

Sergio didn’t answer, but Nikki could see that he had stiffened as soon as he saw the woman. “I can’t believe it… it’s her,” he muttered under his breath, his voice sounding more like a growl.

“Her… who?”

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,” the woman began. “I see that there has been some interest in my little auction. I’m pleased; after all, what’s more exclusive merchandise than the anime characters themselves?”

She paused and let the audience murmur among itself for a few moments. “I knew that would get your attention. Our merchandise is safe in another world at the moment — we want to make sure you all wait your turn before the big moment.”

Nikki gasped. “You were right. She’s really trying to sell Madoka and Sakura to the highest bidder!”

“But before we start the auction, I’d like to say hi to an old friend.” Another spotlight turned on illuminating Sergio and Nikki. “Long time no see, Captain Turbo. Or Agent Turbo, as you go by now. Did you miss me?”

Now that she could see more clearly, Nikki noticed that Sergio’s usually warm eyes were  ice-cold. She took a step back; even the worst of the Cardcaptor Sakura badfics they’d covered hadn’t made him this angry.

“Miss? I was hoping you were rotting in Hell,” he said. “Looks like I have to do my job properly this time, Vera.”

“And how were you planning to do that? I’m stronger than you. I’m the best one. I’ve always been, and that little incident at Strike Dove’s base doesn’t count.”

“The best? You still have the nerve to call yourself the best, when you’re doing the exact opposite of what you were trying to be the best at?” Sergio shouted. “At Strike Dove we were fighting to save innocents… and now you’ve reduced yourself to kidnapping and human trafficking?”

Nikki looked around. The other people seemed to have disappeared from the room — and, even worse, she could see Defectives moving in.

“Oh, you’re always so naive. You were trying to save the innocents, wasting away your potential. Me? I was going after the important targets. Those dictators and terrorist leaders. That’s what we Suvians — that’s what the PPC calls us, right? — are made for. Defeating all our enemies leaving them no chance… the glory of a flawless victory! But you, no, you had to ruin it all, didn’t you? Really, I don’t get you. You managed to get that Sakura girl to fall for you — nice job, ripping her away from her soulmate! — and you could’ve gotten Ami too if you fancied, Japanese girls seem to fall for you at the drop of a hat, but no, you had to be the nice guy and do things by the rules. Of course, this meant you lost them both. And now look at yourself. Killing your own kind without a shred of remorse… is this really who you are now?”

“Yes, it is. And my job right now is to kill you!” Sergio screamed as he pulled out his Beretta and aimed for Vera. Before he could pull the trigger, though, Nikki pushed him to the ground and set up a Protection spell around the two of them. The barrier appeared just in time to stop the hail of bullets from Vera’s mooks.

“Why did you do that?” Sergio shouted when he noticed that Vera was getting away, “I would’ve gotten her!”

“And her Defectives would’ve gotten you!” Nikki rebutted without letting go of him.

“…Right,” he conceded.

Nikki decided that he had calmed enough, and got up before summoning his assault rifle from her hammerspace. “How do we deal with them? We’re surrounded, and I don’t think I can keep up this barrier forever,” she said while handing him the rifle.

“We’ll wait for them to empty their guns, and retaliate when they reload. They’re eight, I think, so four each? We have to be fast though.” Sergio said, aiming his gun.

Nikki summoned some Barret Shoot energy bullets, and put herself back-to-back with him. “I’m ready when you are.”

“Then…” Sergio said, keeping an eye on the Defectives. “Now!”

 

Vera kept running. After all, she didn’t expect her minions to last long — at best, they would take out the girl who was with Sergio, since the guy had a nasty habit of not dying. That was actually the outcome she would’ve liked most, make him plunge into despair for losing his friends yet again, then pull the trigger on him herself.

Her train of thought was interrupted when she found a black-haired girl with a submachine gun blocking the way. “Free Madoka. And the other girl. Now.”

Vera laughed; she could handle her with no trouble. “I’m sorry, but I still have uses for them. Get out of the way, and I’m not going to hurt you.”

Homura opened fire, but Vera was quicker and dodged the first burst. The Puella Magi kept shooting, but despite all logic and Homura’s canonical skill, not one bullet ever hit the Sue.

Why can’t I hit her? It’s like something’s preventing me from targeting her! Homura thought as her gun clicked empty.

Vera closed in, and kicked her straight in the gut, sending her flying towards a wall. The impact was strong enough to make Homura cough out some blood.

“What were you trying to do? You canon characters are powerless against me,” Vera said mockingly. “I’ve kidnapped Madoka. How can you think you would fare better? You can’t defeat me.”

Homura pulled out a pistol from her shield and emptied it against Vera. Despite aiming straight at her, the bullets went way off target, almost like something swatted them away mid-flight.

Vera produced a Mac-10 submachine gun from apparently nowhere. “You’re a persistent one, aren’t you?”

 

Sergio lowered the rifle. “All clear on my side.”

“Same here,” Nikki replied, turning around. “Is it me, or did these guys go down really easily?”

“Yeah. If that idiot’s still writing me, I wouldn’t be surprised if he actually skipped this fight,” Sergio said, completely deadpan. “Besides, it’s very like Vera to not have her minions have any competence at all.”

[We have another problem!] Corolla shouted, opening a holographic window in front of them, [Homura tried to stop Vera, but she’s not responding anymore!]

“Where is she?”

[The corridor near the stage, on the right. Oh, for Madoka’s sake, I hope she isn’t—]

“Let’s go!” Sergio shouted, running in the direction Corolla had pointed out. After entering the corridor, he and Nikki could see Homura on the floor, lying on her side in a puddle of blood. The Puella Magi raised her head weakly before passing out.

“Homura!” Nikki screamed, running to her side before casting Physical Heal on her.

Sergio, instead, stopped halfway through, his eyes unfocused.

 

“This is too quiet,” Ami said, peeking over a rock with her rifle’s scope. “I can’t see anyone in that base.”

Sergio put away his binoculars, sharing his teammate’s concern. “And I already didn’t like this place. Let’s be extra careful, bad stuff happened in this place, and we’re lucky to have gotten out of Da Ghwandai Khar in one piece last week.”

“Wait, there’s someone on that watchtower now. Where did he—”

Ami was cut off by a loud boom and a bullet hitting her shoulder. She collapsed on the wounded side, her blood steadily tinting the snow red.

“Ami!” Sergio shouted, kneeling beside her. The wound was bleeding heavily, likely due to the bullet hitting a major blood vessel.

“How… did he see us already?” Ami asked while Sergio did his best to patch her up with a first aid kit.

“I don’t know, but we’re getting out of here,” Sergio said before activating his CODEC. “Lightning to HQ, Comet has been hit; we need immediate extraction at our current position!”

Sergio then grabbed Ami’s rifle and crawled to the side of the rock. There was no way he could make a shot that far with his M16, after all. The sniper noticed him and started to take aim, but Sergio was faster. The other guy’s head turned into pink mist as he fell.

 

Sergio took a couple steps forward, trying to drive the memories away, to no avail.

 

“Lightning to Dove 1-1, where the hell are you?” Sergio screamed over the CODEC, cradling Ami in his arms. Almost an hour had passed, but the helicopter assigned to them was nowhere to be seen. He looked down to Ami in concern. The bleeding wasn’t stopping — blood was still seeping out from the bandages. And, to make things worse, the sun was setting. If the blood loss wasn’t going to kill her, the Alaskan freezing night would give her the coup-de-grace.

[This is Dove 1-1. We’re doing our best, but the snowstorm is too strong.]

Sergio looked around in disbelief. “What the fuck are you talking about, Dove 1-1? There isn’t even a single cloud in the sky!”

There was no answer, and Sergio didn’t bother try to get another one as he noticed Ami had closed her eyes. “Hey! Stay with me!”

Ami opened her eyes weakly. “Sorry… I feel sleepy… And cold…”

Sergio shook her. “Don’t close your eyes, it’s over if you do!”

“That chopper won’t arrive… right?”

“Of course it will! Hold on a little longer, please!”

“It’s alright. I… knew it was going to… end like this sooner or later.”

“Don’t say things like that!”

Ami raised her arm and patted his cheek. “It’s fine… I’m going to tell… Mom and Dad that I had a great friend who took care of me.”

Sergio shook his head. “I’m sure they don’t want you to join them yet! Besides, we’re a team, how am I supposed to fight without you?”

“I know you can. After all… Lightning always comes back for the next storm. Comets are like shooting stars… they only shine… for a little while…”

Her hand fell.

“Ami! Don’t give up! Ami! AMI!” Sergio screamed. He then looked for a pulse, but there was none. He laid her down, and started performing a cardiac massage on her.

“Why is it always like this? Not again Please, at least her let her live!”

 

[Sergio? Are you still here with us?] Corolla shouted from her window.

Sergio shook his head. It wasn’t the right time for reminiscing. He walked over to Nikki and Homura, and kneeled next to them. “How is she?”

“She lost consciousness, but her magic stopped her from bleeding out. I’m trying to help in healing her wounds, but… there are so many!” Nikki said, her forehead beaded with sweat.

Indeed, Homura’s Puella Magi outfit was riddled with holes, and mostly covered with her own blood.

Sergio frowned. “That bitch emptied a full clip into her. If Homura wasn’t a Puella Magi, she’d already be dead. And… well, Medical can fix that for canon characters, but we’d be all in real trouble anyways.”

He rustled through his pockets until he fished some black cubes out of them. “There, these should help,” he said, putting two next to Homura’s Soul Gem.

“Grief Cubes?” Nikki asked. “You’ve been carrying some with you all the time?”

“You never know when you might get a Madoka Magica mission with a saveable OC. Or team up with some Agents from there.” Sergio watched as the cubes siphoned the corruption from Homura’s Gem.

Nikki nodded before breaking off her spell. “That’s all I can muster at the moment. Good thing you had them; now that her Gem’s clean she has plenty of magic to heal the rest.”

“And it’s mostly done, anyways,” Sergio added, seeing Homura’s now-intact skin through the holes in her outfit. He patted Nikki’s shoulder and got up. “You did great just now, Nikki. You’ve saved everyone. Now, let’s get out of here before more of those Defectives appear.”

 

“At least now we know who’s behind this, right?” Nikki said after having a quick look at Homura. The Puella Magi was still unconscious on the rear seat of the Volvo, and the trio was trying to get as much distance as possible from the mansion.

“Yeah,” Sergio said, looking straight ahead on the road.

“So, this Vera… She’s the one who killed Ami, right?”

Sergio didn’t answer, and Nikki looked down. “… I see. Still, I thought you said you had killed her in turn.”

 

Sergio walked towards Vera, who was on the ground bleeding out.

“This… This can’t be happening!” she screamed. “I’m stronger than you!”

“You aren’t strong. You just force stuff to suit your whims.”

“I can do that because I am strong!”

Sergio aimed his P99 pistol at her. “There is no strength in betraying your own allies. Only cowardice.”

 

“… Didn’t you?” Nikki said, afraid of the answer.

 

Sergio lowered the gun. “No, it would be too easy for you to die like this. You know how much Ami held onto life, despite her injury? One hour. Waiting for a helicopter you made sure would never arrive.”

Sergio put away the gun just as the building started shaking. “This place’s buckling? Don’t tell me Strike Dove’s existence was your doing, too…? Well, listen: I’m not finishing you now. You’re going to bleed out, or maybe you’ll be lucky and this place will fall on your head first. Either way, you’ll die slowly and painfully. Like Ami.”

 

“… And that’s how it actually went. Told you I’m no hero… what kind of hero would do something like that? Looks like not finishing her off properly came back to bite me in the ass.”

Nikki put a hand on his shoulder, but didn’t know what to say. As much as she hated to admit it, she could actually imagine him doing something like that.

“This entire mess is all my fault, isn’t it?”

“No,” Nikki said firmly. “This is only Vera’s fault. Sure, if you had killed her back then this wouldn’t be happening, but… Everyone makes mistakes. Don’t let yours crush you, OK? Please.”

“I’m afraid it’s a bit late for that. Earlier, when I saw Homura in those conditions…”

“Yeah, I saw. What happened? It’s… just not like you to freeze that way.”

“Homura’s got the same hair color and roughly the same build as Ami. I… I wasn’t seeing Homura. I… I was back in Alaska, when Ami…” His voice died out.

“… A flashback? Don’t tell me…”

[Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,] Corolla completed from Nikki’s Device. [I was starting to suspect that, with how you were acting in the last days.]

“And knowing Vera’s behind this all isn’t making things any easier,” Sergio commented dryly. “But, then again, since I know how she thinks I can try to predict her next move. So having her as our enemy is not entirely a bad thing.” He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Still, I don’t get why she would do something like this. What interest does she have in all that getup?”

Nikki scratched her head. “Besides, when she realized you were there, she pretty much forgot about her auction completely.”

“Hm, you’re right. Vera talked only about… Damn!” Sergio shouted, punching the rim of the steering wheel. “We’ve been played since the very beginning!”

Nikki raised an eyebrow. “Eh?”

“Madoka and Sakura were never her goal. They were the bait.”

“Wait, this means that…?”

“What Vera’s actually after is me. I’m pretty sure she thinks I’ve humiliated her, and now wants revenge for it!”

Nikki looked down in thought. “You sure? I mean, it’s not that far-fetched…”

“Think about it. Who was the first kidnapped character?”

“Well, Sakura… Who is also—”

Sergio nodded. “Exactly. She deliberately went for her, to try to get me to be emotional and less lucid.”

“And then she went for Madoka because that would’ve shown how ‘strong’ she is?” Nikki wondered.

“Something like that, I guess. I don’t think Nanoha was even supposed to be on her target list… from that point on, all those coincidences were actually her laying out the clues that would’ve brought us to her.” Sergio said, “I think we would’ve found those four Defectives even if we went into Pretty Cure, or Ojamajo Doremi, or even a series with no magical girls at all. And setting up this thing in the Alarm für Cobra 11 continuum was likely a way to make sure I would’ve gotten this mission even if that Cardcaptor Sakura fic wasn’t assigned to me, as I’m likely the only agent knowledgeable in both!”

“And I guess the reason why all those ambushes were useless is because they weren’t supposed to actually stop us?”

Sergio nodded again. “It’s possible. I’m pretty sure she wants to kill me personally — those ambushes were likely only supposed to make us waste time and strength… if not even try to get me to be the only survivor again.”

Nikki took a deep breath, eyes wide open. “You think she wants me and Homura to die first?”

Sergio nodded slowly “That’s pretty much how things went last time, and… well, Homura was very, very lucky right now that Vera didn’t bother checking if she was indeed dead. Anyways, in the last assignments I got while teamed with Ami, things started going wrong at just the right moments to get us into real trouble — until a counter-sniper got lucky and… well, you know the rest. Vera didn’t pull the trigger herself that time, and only did right now because Homura faced her directly.”

“I see… So, what do you think will be her next move?”

“I’m not sure, actually, but considering how much she’s obsessed with killing me I think I know her base of operations,” Sergio said as he stopped the car. “I’m pretty sure the portals will be working right now, because she wants us to get there.”

 

“See? The portals work like a charm now. Also, that’s why a shrink ray is so convenient. We can use that car—”

Sergio stopped as he realized that they hadn’t ended up in their RC, but in the Sunflower’s office.

Homura, who had just woken up, blinked a couple of times. Why was a giant sunflower wearing a suit behind that desk?

“Uhm, guys, sorry for not warning you, but the Sunflower wanted to speak with all of us,” Corolla said, fidgeting as she floated next to them.

What were you thinking, Agent Turbo? I thought I was clear when I said that you were not to attempt a rescue yourself. DoSAT was working around the clock to find a way to send a rescue team in. Also, deputizing canon characters is not allowed. I thought we had sent a reminder to every console after Agent Carter had the—

“With all due respect, sir, we had to act before the end of that auction. And we needed all the help we could muster.”

I’m going to accept your justification this time, Agent Turbo. But at the next infraction you’ll be assigned to the department with the highest paperwork backlog. For now, continue the mission as you were, with you and Agent Cherryflower on the field and Agent Corolla as mission control. We will send backup as soon as Vera Heartbound and the abducted canon characters are located, so wait for it this time. It goes without saying that Homura Akemi is to be neuralyzed and sent back home.

“I am to be… what?” Homura asked, visibly upset.

“Neuralyzed,” Corolla explained. “We’ll erase your memories of the last few days.”

“I’m not going to allow that,” Homura said flatly, looking directly at where the Sunflower’s eyes would have been if he were human.

I’m afraid you don’t have a choice.

Sergio pulled out his neuralyzer reluctantly. Homura had been a great help, and actually succeeding in saving Madoka for once would probably do good to her psyche.

Then again, the whole mess was never supposed to happen, and both she and Madoka were to be neuralyzed anyway in the end.

Sergio sighed. It was going to be just him and Nikki again, since Corolla was to stay in HQ. Something the Unison Device was going to get used to, since…

“You’re right, sir. She has no choice. Homura, you’re coming with us. And I want Corolla on the field as well this time.”

Agent Turbo, are you deaf? That’s not—

Sergio ripped off the flash patch from his jacket, and put it on the Sunflower’s desk along with the neuralyzer. “I know. But Vera seems to know at least a bit of how the PPC works — she knows some of our terminology, I wouldn’t put it past her to somehow know at least some of our rules… and use them to her advantage. That’s why I’m resigning, right now. I need to break some of them.”

Agent Turbo, you know that I am now forced to reassign the mission to another team?

“Sir, Vera’s my own personal problem. She’s not after canon characters or the PPC, she’s after me. My enemy, my case, PPC or not. And, besides… I guess I’ve got to fix my own mistakes.”

The Sunflower did the telepathic equivalent of a frown. Seventy-two hours. That’s all I can give you. I’m getting a combined ESAS and Special Operations team on standby — one minute more, and the mission goes to them. Make use of your time wisely. However, I still can’t authorize Homura Akemi to follow you.

Sergio glanced at Homura. “Sir, you’re putting yourself in the way of a heavily armed, very unstable and extremely determined girl right now. I… wouldn’t do that.”

What do you mean, Agent Turbo… Oh. I understand. I will make another exception for now, Agent Turbo.

Sergio started walking out of the office. “I’m no longer an Agent, sir. And, Homura, can you put that flamethrower away, please? Torching my ex-boss would get us in more trouble than we already are in.”

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