As usual, thanks to Doctorlit and Hieronymus Graubart for their beta services.
Mission Record 12 – Guardian Angel
Ami ran towards Colonel Johnson’s office and opened the door as quickly as she could without slamming it. “I’m sorry I’m late, sir!”
“Don’t worry, First Lieutenant. We didn’t begin the introductions yet.”
Ami looked around while catching her breath. Johnson was sitting at the desk like usual, and, as she had expected, Vera and James were already there, alongside a young man she assumed to be the new guy assigned to their team.
She looked at him out of curiosity. He was quite tall, probably just a couple inches less than James, with messy brown hair and wearing a pair of glasses. He was standing at attention looking towards Johnson, his expression unreadable.
He looks so serious… I was hoping for the new member to be a girl I could get along with. Well, there isn’t anything I can do about it, right?
“Raven Team, this is Second Lieutenant Sergio Turbo, your new team member.”
Ami’s thoughts started trailing off while Johnson continued with the introductions. Well, it’s not like I could be expecting another girl my age. I’m already an exception to the rules.
She glanced at Vera. I’m still curious how she got in, though.
Ami walked towards the outdoor firing range, carrying her Mk14 rifle inside its case. It was a cold January afternoon, and so there weren’t many people at the range that day; in fact, only the first two rifle lanes appeared to be occupied, with Josh and Nathan of Raptor Team currently comparing their results.
Ami waved at them and resisted the urge to laugh as she realized that both had tried to draw a smiley face on the targets with the bullet holes.
As she neared the long range lane, though, she noticed that the last rifle lane was occupied as well. She set her weapon case on the ground, and glanced at the other shooter.
That’s Sergio. I wonder why he chose a lane so far away from the others.
Ami peeked at the target sheet he was holding. “That’s not a bad grouping for a beginner.”
Sergio turned around and looked at her, apparently surprised. “Uhm… Thank you, ma’am.”
“Just Ami is fine. We aren’t so formal around here.”
“OK, but… Aren’t you my superior?”
“Well… yes and no? We only use ranks as to tell who’s a team leader and stuff like that. A Striker Team leader is a Captain, regular team members are First Lieutenants and probationary team members like you are Second Lieutenants.” Ami looked up in thought. “I heard Colonel Johnson held that rank in the US Air Force or something, so we’re using his old rank more out of respect than anything.”
Sergio rubbed his chin. “I see. Then why is Major Heartbound, well, a Major? Shouldn’t she be a Captain?”
“I… don’t know, actually. I never asked her, to be sincere.”
Ami glanced at Sergio while reloading her rifle. He kept firing in very long bursts, emptying a magazine in just two or three of them. “Maybe you should try shorter bursts?”
Sergio looked at her. “Hm?”
“Well, you consistently hit near the center of the target at first, but then you keep your finger on the trigger and end up spraying rounds all above the target. You should only fire a few rounds at a time… maybe try the three round burst setting if your gun has it?”
“My M16 doesn’t have it, but I’ll try doing that manually.”
Only then Ami realized that, despite looking a lot like the standard issue M4 of Strike Dove, his rifle had a longer barrel and a different, simpler stock. It looked quite battered, as well. “Wow, they really gave you an old rifle. I didn’t even know we had M16s around.”
“No, I didn’t get it here. I already had it… let’s just say I already have some experience in fighting.”
“You were right. This looks much better,” Sergio said, looking at the target sheet in his hand. They had just finished shooting practice, and were sitting at a table cleaning their guns.
Ami peeked at the sheet. His groupings had improved considerably just with her tip. “Wow, that’s pretty good. You surely have been a shooter for a while, haven’t you…?”
Ami bit her lip as she saw Sergio turn away. Maybe I shouldn’t have asked that.
“For… I don’t remember exactly, but several years already,” he said after a while. Sergio then glanced at her Mk14. “What’s that? I’ve never seen anything like that rifle.”
“It’s an Mk14 Mod 0, a modernized version of the old M14. Or, at least, that’s what I got explained. Mine is set up as a marksman rifle, but it can be used as a battle rifle as well. Dad used it like the latter before—” Her voice died out as she thought about what had happened to her family.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—”
“It’s alright. You couldn’t have known.” Ami looked up at him. “But… Well, you’re bound to hear it from someone else one way or another, so I guess I should tell you the whole story. It isn’t good to keep secrets between teammates, after all.”
“You don’t have to if it is too hurtful.” Despite having met her only that day, Ami could hear genuine concern in his voice.
“Don’t worry. After all, there isn’t much to tell you about. See, my parents used to work here, as well. But one day, during last year’s war, they… didn’t get back from a mission.“
Sergio glanced at her rifle again. “So you picked up their battle?”
“More or less. I was already living at the base, as our house wasn’t a safe place anymore… and I already wanted to enlist here once old enough. I just ended up doing that earlier than planned.”
“Earlier than planned? Pardon my indiscretion, but… how old are you?”
It is because I’m so short, isn’t it? “I’ve just turned fourteen. I know, I’m too young for this, but…”
“I would be one hell of a hypocrite if I complained about that. How old do you think I am?”
Ami looked at him more carefully, but most of her first impression about him was confirmed. His eyes are very warm, though. “Twenty?”
Sergio started laughing. “I’m sixteen. Do I really look that old?”
Ami widened her eyes. “Well… yes? I mean, in the office you looked so serious and mature, and you’re so tall… you looked like a veteran!”
“Well.. I have to admit I’ve already seen a lot of action.”
Ami raised an eyebrow. He surely couldn’t have been a regular soldier at that age. “Resistance?”
“Something like that. But… I’d like to not speak about it.”
Ami nodded understandingly.
“Okay everyone, weapons ready,” Vera shouted over the helicopter’s noise. “We’ll be at the mission area soon. We go in, kill everything, put a bullet through the skull of that warlord, get out. Like usual.”
Ami suppressed a sigh. As usual, Vera’s plan was to simply barge in guns blazing, completely disregarding any kind of tactical approach. I’m a designated marksman. Running in blind is the opposite of what I should do. She’s gonna get me killed someday.
“Here we go again.” Sergio leaned forward. “That’s not a plan, you know?”
Vera crossed her arms, looking offended. “Of course it is. We’re an elite unit with cool weapons, while they’re just random militia with old AKs. They’ll go down like bowling pins, so why bother with complex stuff?”
Sergio rubbed his forehead in an eloquent “are you insane” gesture. “The only way that’s a good plan is if suicide is a good plan for you. What are you, twelve?”
“I’m thirteen! And I’m the leader, so I decide how we go, and…”
Ami shivered. Knowing Vera’s temper, that wasn’t going to end well, and indeed Vera started a long monologue on how she knew better. It was something Ami was used to; while she was too timid to start an argument with her and James simply went with the flow, Sergio was always quick to question Vera’s decisions.
Sergio listened to her silently, his arms crossed and his stare fixed as if analyzing her while waiting for her to run out of steam.
“That’s how it is, huh,” he said once Vera was over with the outburst of the day. “Though, with due respect ma’am, I still believe that’s not the best course of action.”
Sergio grabbed a satellite image with the location of the warlord’s stronghold. “While I agree that this is only an old colonial mansion with improvised fortification, this tower isn’t just for looks. Well, maybe it once was, but it would be stupid to believe they haven’t turned it into a watchtower. Taking out the sentinel up there should be the priority, and this rock ledge south of the stronghold looks like a good position for Comet to take the shot. Once taken care of that…”
Ami listened intently as Sergio laid out a full assault plan, scribbling down routes on the photo and going so far as to suggest how to split the team according to each member’s specialization and loadout. He always comes up with good plans. Where did he learn all of that…?
“Boring,” Vera commented in the end. “Taking them out from a distance? Encircling them? That’s the cowardly way. There’s glory only in facing your enemy head-on!”
“So ‘glory’ is why you want to get us all into crossfire, including our marksman who isn’t supposed to get into close combat at all?”
“It’s her fault if she’s too weak to handle automatic weapons!”
Ami looked down, trying to hold back her anger. I didn’t ask to be this small, you know?
James leaned forward. “Boss, that was harsh. And… well, I think Lightning’s got a point. He seems to know what he’s talking about. You should stop shooting down his plans every time.”
“No. We’re sticking with mine.”
Sergio snorted. “Figures,” he muttered low enough that Ami heard him just barely, and Vera and James didn’t seem to hear over their own discussion, “You’re one too, huh?”
Ami kept wondering what he meant by that for the rest of the flight.
Ami held her rifle close to her body while hiding behind a concrete barrier, bullets zipping above her.
Sergio fired a couple bursts before ducking under cover to reload. “Does she have a death wish or something? She just charged in without any cover.”
Ami didn’t need to look to guess what Vera was doing. She likely was in the middle of the courtyard, shooting wildly with her machine pistols or stabbing with her katana, dodging bullets and spinning around like a dancer on stage while the rest of her team was forced to take cover and try to stay alive.
“Lightning, I hope you’ve got one of your clever ideas, because this is going south quickly,” James shouted, laying down suppressive fire with his M60 machine gun.
“Can you cover us? If Venom keeps distracting them with her show, Comet and I might be able to take a detour and get them from behind.”
Ami lay down on the rock ledge and unfolded her rifle’s bipod. Next to her, Sergio looked at the stronghold through a pair of binoculars. “Comet, near the gate. The target is escaping.”
Ami aimed where he said, and indeed the warlord was being quickly escorted towards an old offroader. She held her breath and pulled the trigger.
“Hit. He’s down.” Sergio patted her on the shoulder. “Nice shot.”
Ami opened a CODEC call. “Comet to HQ. Target is neutralized.”
[Good job. Raven Team, mission accomplished. Disengage and return to LZ.]
[What? We’ve still got lots of enemies to kill!] Vera screamed. [And you two stole the most important kill from me again!]
Ami opened the door of the southmost hangar, and walked in. As Strike Dove lacked the air fleet to occupy all the hangars of the former US Air Force airfield they were based in, that one was being used as a covered car park by the people living at the base.
She looked around for Sergio. Their shift had ended an hour earlier, and since he wasn’t in his room he most likely was tinkering with his old Toyota coupé, even now that, with summer nearing, the hangar was becoming very hot in the afternoons.
Indeed, Ami caught a glimpse of the bright red car, its hood open. Sergio was leaning on the engine bay, working with some wires while James was talking to him.
“The guys from Raptor team and I are going to do some runs this evening at the old radio tower road. Want to come?”
Sergio looked at him sideways. “Runs at the… Sorry, I’m not into street racing.”
“Hey, don’t jump to conclusions. You don’t know which road it is, do you?” James laughed. “It’s the one leading to the old abandoned tower on the hill. Not a public road at all, the only way to get on it is from inside the base itself.”
“And the Colonel doesn’t mind?”
“He sometimes dusts off his old Charger and comes for a spin as well… though that narrow road doesn’t suit it at all. And, besides, we don’t actually race. Just some sporty driving up and down the road for fun. You should come, so see ya later!”
James waved at him and walked away. Sergio followed him with his eyes, his expression clearly one of disbelief until he noticed Ami standing a few meters away. “Oh, hi. Need anything?”
Ami took a deep breath and walked closer. Why am I feeling so embarrassed…? “Well, yes. Is your car alright? Because I finally decided on getting Ace Combat 6, and… well, if you could give me a lift…”
“I see. Since Namco had the great idea to switch sides in the console war, you’re going to need to get an Xbox for it as well. And you can’t really carry that comfortably by foot or on a bus.” He glanced at the engine bay. “Not a problem, I could use a few more kilometers of break-in for the engine. And, besides, that’s the least I can do since you’ve been letting me play the other Ace Combat games on your Playstation, and made me discover the awesomeness Lyrical Nanoha is.”
“Thank you! And… well, I didn’t do anything special. Videogames and anime are simply better in company.” Ami then glanced at the front of the car in curiosity. “You replaced the pop-up headlights with normal ones? Why did you do that?”
“Well, mostly for aerodynamic reasons. This way I can get better performance and mileage when the lights are on.”
“But the pop-ups were so cute!” Ami mimicked the motion of said headlights with her hands. “I once saw a photo of a car with only one light up, it looked like it was winking!”
Sergio laughed. “Well, I do have to admit pop-up headlights have their charm.”
“I can’t believe this,” Ami said, reading the instructions booklet of her new Xbox 360. “I have to pay a subscription to Microsoft to be able to play online?”
Sergio raised his head from behind her television set. “Now I get why people keep spelling their name with a dollar symbol in it.” He walked over to her. “Anyways, the Xbox is plugged in and ready to go.”
Ami grabbed the DVD case of Ace Combat 6 and put the disc into the console. “Aww, there is no split-screen!”
“That’s a shame. Shall we take turns at the campaign like we did with Unsung War?”
Ami nodded, and they sat at the end of her bed.
Why is my heart beating so fast now? Ami thought during Sergio’s turn. We’re just friends, and teammates, right?… Playing games together is nothing special.
Ami turned towards him. He was offering her the controller, one of his eyebrows raised. “Eh? What?”
“It’s your turn.”
Ami took the controller. “Sorry, I was spacing out.”
Sergio leaned towards her a bit, concern on his face. “Anything wrong?”
Ami could feel her heart skip a beat. “No, nothing. Just thinking about some stuff.” Is that how I feel about him…?
“So…” Sergio said, driving his Trueno on the radio tower road, closely following Josh’s Lancer. “I thought you weren’t interested in cars much?”
Ami fiddled with her seatbelt. “Well, yeah. But you’re going to race on a mountain course like in Initial D, right? I was curious to see how it is in real life!”
Sergio raised an eyebrow as he downshifted to tackle a corner. “Initial what?”
“You don’t know Initial D? The main character even has the same car as you!”
“Guess I’ll have to check it out, then.”
“Well…” Ami fidgeted. “I’ve only watched the first season, as it isn’t really my kind of anime. But if you want we can watch it together after we finish Nanoha.”
“Yeah, that sounds like a good idea.”
“Sergio, you’re pretty good for someone this young,” Josh said as they took a pause to let the engines cool down.
James nodded, leaning with his back against his Mustang. “Told you the guy had potential. And you haven’t seen the best. Pop the hood, Sergio.”
Sergio gave him a quick glance before doing so. “I don’t think it’s anything special.”
Josh and Nathan looked under the hood. “Isn’t that engine a 7A-GTE?” the latter asked. “It looks like you’ve spent a lot building this car.”
“Well…” Sergio said, looking down. “This car’s everything I have left, so I’m throwing everything into it, both in money and time.”
Ami raised an eyebrow. “Everything…?”
“Well, yeah. I’m living at the base, so I don’t have much in the way of living expenses. And I don’t go out much, either… after all, I don’t even have a girlfriend.”
Ami brought a hand to her chest. Why am I feeling so relieved that he is single?
“Being single has its perks,” Nathan said before glancing at his BMW. “Vanny nearly killed me when she realized that the car I had bought was actually an old M5.”
Their chat was interrupted by the sound of an engine. A few seconds later, a black Porsche parked next to them.
“Here we go again…” Josh said, disappointment in his voice.
The door of the Porsche opened, and Vera got out. Ami blinked a couple of times in disbelief. Why has she got a car? She’s too young to drive!
“Sorry I’m late. Let’s see who’s the fastest!”
“For the hundredth time, this isn’t a competition,” Josh said sternly. “We’re here to have fun with our cars, and that’s it.”
Vera scoffed. “What’s the point of improving your car if it isn’t to be faster than the others’?”
“Your Cayman seems to be quite stock though.”
“That’s because Porsches are perfect the way they are!”
Josh sighed. “Feel free to believe what you want, but I thought I had been clear last time: until you accept that our car meetings aren’t about one-upping each other, you’re not welcome here.”
“Oh, but you’ve got no authority to tell me what to do, Captain Colt. I’m the highest ranked one here, so I lay the rules.” Vera smiled smugly, and looked around. She raised an eyebrow as she saw Ami. “Tanegashima? You here too? I didn’t know your feet reached the pedals.”
Ami clenched her fists, breathing deeply. She had to keep her anger in check, as Vera would be quick to abuse her position as a team leader to report any complaint as insubordination.
“Ok, that’s it Vera,” Sergio said, his voice eerily calm. “I’m putting up with you enough during missions; I’m not letting you insult my friends here too. You want to race? Fine, I’ll race against you. And the loser never sets foot here again.”
Ami was taken aback. True, he would go out of his way to help her during missions, but that was a given for a good teammate. Him standing up to Vera there was something she didn’t expect. He’s going so far as to face off Vera for me…?
Vera laughed. “That’s Major Heartbound to you, Second Lieutenant. But I’m letting your insubordination slip for this time. Humiliating you and your rustbucket during the race will be enough.”
As she said that, she entered her car and drove it to the starting position. Sergio opened his Trueno’s door, but Josh grabbed him by the arm. “Hey, you don’t have to do this. Besides, if you lose—”
“I won’t lose, Josh. Sure, she has more power — my Trueno’s still on a low boost setting so that’s just about 220 horsepower against her 300 or so — but this is a narrow winding road so suspension setup and driving skills are what matters most. If she drives like she fights, there’s no way I can lose to her pancaked Beetle.”
Josh sighed, and let him go with a shrug. “Alright, it’s your call. Just be careful, though — we don’t want anyone to get hurt here, and I know for fact Vera doesn’t drive cleanly.”
“Rocket, I hope your camera setup is working. We need to keep an eye on this,” Josh said after the race started. As could be expected, Vera’s Cayman was faster off the line, and rounded the first corner in the lead.
Nathan set a laptop PC on the hood of his car. “Looks like it is.”
Ami peeked in, and saw the video feed of several cameras on the computer’s screen. “Wow, you could make a movie with all these cams!”
“Well, the idea was to make a montage of our runs.” Nathan brought on full-screen the feed of the camera from which the two cars were visible. “But it will also be a good way to see if something bad happens.”
Ami kept watching the video feed, with Nathan switching from camera to camera in order to follow the race. Vera was still in the lead, her car faster on the straights, but in the corners Sergio would always regain the distance.
“He wasn’t lying about his claims.” Josh let out a short laugh. “His line is better. He isn’t some kid who just got his driving license.”
“Maybe he was racing karts before the war?” Nathan wondered.
In the meanwhile, Sergio had managed to come out faster from a chicane, and tried to overtake on the inside in the following corner. Vera, however, steered sharply to close the space, forcing him to brake. Sparks flew off as Sergio’s car scratched lightly on the guardrail as he did his best to avoid colliding with Vera’s car.
“She nearly drove him off the road!” Ami shouted.
“That’s why we don’t want her here,” Josh said flatly. “And why I was against this.”
Nathan poked his shoulder. “Josh, look. He’s driving differently now.”
His driving now looks a bit like that in Initial D, Ami thought as she saw that Sergio was now taking the corners very aggressively, sending the car on a four wheel drift in the narrow ones. While he had lost some ground due to the collision, he was making it up at a quick pace.
“Rocket, I think he hasn’t been karting. He’s driving more like a rally driver.” Josh rubbed his chin. “I’m pretty sure I’ve already seen this particular style somewhere, but where…?”
The two cars reached the end of the road, where a cone had been placed to mark the switch-back point. Vera brutally turned her Cayman around with the handbrake, nearly coming to a stop before accelerating away spinning her tires. Sergio, instead, managed to swing his car around the cone cleanly, making up the last of the gap.
“Just a quick tap on the handbrake, then power over to drift around the cone,” Josh explained. “As I thought, he’s indeed using rally techniques.”
Ami kept her eyes fixed on the video feed. He’s right on her tail, but he’s not trying to overtake…?
Indeed, for several corners Sergio seemed to be contented with driving at just a couple meters from the rear bumper of the Cayman. Wait, isn’t Vera’s car sliding too?
“Wow, Sergio’s surely putting a lot of pressure on the boss,” James said. “I can see from here that she’s getting nervous. Look at— Whoa!”
The Cayman skidded out of the intended line during a long right-hand corner, likely due to taking it too fast. The Trueno dove to the inside, making the pass just in time before the following corner.
Josh crossed his arms. “It’s over. She’s not going to keep up.”
Ami noticed a smile on Josh’s face. “Why? I mean, he’s been faster… but you’re so sure!”
“I just realized where I had already seen his driving. A couple years ago, in the Under-16 World Rally Championship…”
“You were awesome!” Ami complimented Sergio as he accompanied her to her room.
“Nah, I’m sure I’m not.”
“But… I mean, you’ve been doing great during missions, and you’re very good at driving too.”
Sergio smiled uncomfortably. “That’s the only two things I’m good at, though. Fighting and driving. That’s all I am.”
Ami opened the door of her room. “You’re much more than that. I mean, so far you’ve been such a nice person. You can be a little more proud of yourself… you’re even a world champion!”
Ami realized that Sergio wasn’t following her inside the room. She turned around, and found him looking at the ground a few steps back. “How do you know?”
“Well, Colt said that he had recognized how you drive. He said that you’ve managed to win some kind of rally championship twice!”
Sergio kept looking down. “Think nothing of it. It wasn’t really that big of a championship anyways. Just a few kids doing a watered-down version of the rallies of the proper WRC. It was just an experiment they did as a lead-in class like the small single-seater cars are to F1, and they didn’t even resume it after the War. Too many accidents, I guess.”
“Do you mind if I go looking for some videos of it, though? I’m curious,” Ami said, opening her laptop PC.
Sergio took a deep breath. “Even if I say no, there’s nothing I can do to prevent you from doing so when I’m not around so…”
Ami pouted. “I would never do that! It wouldn’t be nice to look up things about you behind your back, you know…?”
“Why did you stop racing?” Ami asked after watching a few videos. She brought up another browser window, showing his results. “You won both the 2005 and 2006 titles by a very good margin! I bet you would’ve been earning more money, too.”
Sergio looked away. “It didn’t feel right anymore after I—” He stopped, almost like catching himself from finishing the sentence.
Sergio gulped, and pointed at his copilot’s name on the screen. “Aurora was in my same resistance group during the War, but… unlike me, she didn’t make it out alive. I… I was the only one who did.”
Ami felt her stomach knotting up. So that’s why he’s uncomfortable with remembering his racing career? “Sorry, I shouldn’t have been forcing this onto you. If only I knew…”
“And how? You couldn’t.” Sergio let out a short laugh. “Heh, this is like the chat we had on my first day, but with inverted roles, isn’t it? So don’t worry about it. The only thing we have to worry about is how grumpy Vera will be tomorrow.”
“Major Heartbound, your complaint is simply unacceptable,” Johnson said, looking Vera straight in the eyes. She had dragged the entire team to his office, and was trying to get Sergio off her team. “Second Lieutenant Turbo’s refusal to follow your orders isn’t insubordination, but simply common sense. In fact, if it wasn’t for his quick thinking I believe many of the operations assigned to your team would’ve ended in failure.”
Johnson raised a hand to stop her. “You’ve been showing a lack of even the basics of tactical knowledge, and that means you’re unfit as a team leader. I’ve scheduled some courses for you, and in the meanwhile I’ll temporarily assign your team’s leadership to Second Lieutenant Turbo. Pay attention, I think you can learn from him.”
“No way I’m working under him! I’d rather fight all by myself… I don’t need a team!” Vera stormed out of Colonel Johnson’s office, slamming the door behind her.
A shiver went down Ami’s spine. She had never seen Vera so furious, but Johnson seemed to take the issue calmly, just letting out an exasperated sigh.
“Well, if she doesn’t want to stay in Raven Team anymore then I guess the change in its leadership will be permanent.” He looked at Sergio. “Congratulations, Captain Turbo. You just got promoted.”
Ami looked at Sergio and was surprised to see that he didn’t seem to be happy about it.
“Uhm… Thank you sir, but I’m not sure I’m good enough to be a team leader.”
James raised an eyebrow. “Are you kidding, man? There’s no way you can be worse than Vera. I saw how you think, and I trust the Colonel’s judgment so you’re the boss now.”
Ami walked in front of him and saluted. “I’m looking forward to working with you, Captain!”
Sergio sighed. “Guys… OK, I’ll give it a try.”
Ami tied up some of her hair in a single high pigtail before taking a look in the mirror. She nodded in satisfaction as the hair tie matched perfectly with her lilac sleeveless dress and purple eyes.
Despite being already September, the weather was still very warm and so she had come up with the idea of taking a day off. I’m happy Sergio accepted it.
She took a deep breath and walked out of her room. Will he accept my confession, as well…?
“Wow, I didn’t think this place was so popular!” Ami said as she and Sergio queued up at an ice cream parlor.
“Maybe we should try another one?”
Ami shook her head energetically. “I’ve heard this one’s the best in the area, I really wanted to try it out!”
Sergio let out a short laugh. “Well, I’m trusting you here. It’s not like we’re in a hurry after all.”
As the queue slowly proceeded, Ami did her best to act normally, even if being so close to him was making her heart race. This feels so much like a date…
Sergio leaned towards her a bit. “Hm?”
“W-what is it?” Ami felt her cheeks heat up. If I keep going like this, he’ll realize on his own before I say anything!
“Your earrings are really nice.”
Ami felt her head become light with joy at the compliment. Those were her favorite earrings; shaped like Japanese cherry tree blossoms, but in lilac.
Sergio looked away. “In pink they would’ve looked good with her hair clip,” he muttered in a very low voice, probably mostly to himself.
Ami felt like the whole world had crashed on her. Her… who? Don’t tell me… he has a girlfriend?
She walked out of the queue absent-mindedly.
“Sorry, I’m… not feeling very well. Can we get back to the base?”
Ami hugged her pillow tightly, lying on her bed and staring at the wall. I’ve waited too much. He mentioned he didn’t have a girlfriend a couple months ago… She buried her face in the pillow, and started crying again.
There was a light knock at the door. Ami raised her face from the pillow just enough to speak. “Who is that?”
“It’s me, Sergio.”
Ami took a deep breath. It might be a bad idea, but… “Come in.”
Sergio opened the door and walked in, a clearly concerned look on his face. “Are you feeling better?”
Even if there’s a girl you love, you really care about me a lot as well… you’re too kind. “A bit.”
“Is there anything I can do?”
The thought of him dropping his girlfriend for her passed on Ami’s mind, but she rejected it. That’s a very selfish and messed up thing to want! “Not really, no. But thank you.”
A thought passed on her mind. Maybe… What if I had gotten it all wrong? How can I be sure…
“You really are too kind. Your girlfriend surely is a very lucky girl,” she said in the end.
Sergio raised an eyebrow. “What? But I don’t have one.”
Ami felt a glimmer of hope. Oh, right, he mentioned he has a sister. Maybe he was talking about her? “Really? By what you said earlier, it sounded like you wanted to get earrings like mine for another girl… your sister, perhaps? You never talk about her.”
“I never really got along much with her… No, you were right in thinking the earrings would’ve been for a girlfriend, but… I don’t have one anymore”
Ami raised an eyebrow, trying to put together the few things he had revealed. “You broke up?”
Sergio sat on the edge of her bed. “No… I lost her during the War. It’s been one year already, but… I still can’t stop thinking about her, even if it feels wrong.”
“Oh, I get it… Aurora wasn’t just your copilot, am I right?”
Sergio shook his head. “No, she was just a friend. I’ve… lost many people. Pretty much everyone.”
Ami looked down. “I know what you mean.”
To her surprise, Sergio pulled out his wallet and retrieved a photo from it. “Here, since you appear to be curious.”
Ami took a look at it. It was a group photo of many people around their age, took under a very big Christmas tree. Here’s Sergio… and that other girl must be Aurora, she looks the same as the girl in the photos of Sergio’s rallying I found on the Internet.
She then noticed that one of the girls was wearing a hairclip decorated with cherry blossoms. “Is this one your girlfriend?”
Sergio nodded slowly. “And the one with a bit of her hair dyed pink is my sister.”
“You never talk about her… wait, don’t tell me…”
Sergio flinched. He put the photo back in his wallet, and took a deep breath. “Yeah. Of these people, I’m the only one left. And maybe some would’ve been better off never knowing me. I was sort of the leader of this group, you know? And that’s how it ended.”
Ami was surprised. It was pretty rare for Sergio to open up that way. “So that’s why you didn’t want to be the leader of our team. But don’t worry: I don’t have any intention of dying on you, and I’m sure James doesn’t either!”
Sergio, however, didn’t seem to be very reassured.
“Guys, you need to come have a look at this!” Josh shouted at Sergio and Ami as they walked towards the firing range.
“What’s the matter, JJ?” Sergio asked as they started following him.
Josh led them to the mess hall, heading towards one of the televisions in it. “It’s about James.”
“Didn’t he take the week off?” Ami raised an eyebrow. “He said his brother had just gotten out of jail or something, and wanted to help him find a job and…”
The words died in her throat as she read the breaking news on the screen. They were about a drive-by shooting that happened nearby, with two brothers as the victims. “No…”
“Probably a rival gang,” Josh said.
“Or maybe Carl’s own. James said he had gotten a few years off his sentence by collaborating with the police,” Sergio added, before turning to a table and punching it. “Damn it! Off all the ways it could happen…”
Ami looked down. She understood clearly what he meant — what are the odds of getting shot at home, when your job involves getting shot everywhere else?
“Why is it always ending like this lately?” Ami shouted as she and Sergio took cover behind some trees. While they had completed their main mission objective — take down a survivalist militia leader who had holed up in the Alaskan wilderness — a full platoon of his men came out of apparently nowhere to chase them.
“There’s something fishy about this. You fired only a single shot, we relocated right away and yet they’ve pinpointed our location perfectly!” Sergio shouted back over the sound of gunfire.
He took a sigh after taking down the last of the militia soldiers. “It’s almost like they knew of our attack plan…”
“But that can’t be, can it?” Ami said, reloading her rifle. “Anyways, we’re almost done. We just have to destroy their weapons depot, right?”
“Right.” Sergio looked down. “Maybe I’ll feel better once I’ll have blown up that wretched place for good…?”
Ami bolted awake, hearing the sound of the helicopter. She looked around, and she was indeed inside Dove 1-1. Did I just fall asleep on duty?
She saw Sergio sitting across from her, looking quite downcast. The door gunner was trying to comfort him. Right, I must’ve passed out after being shot. All what I’ve told him was for nothing, I guess… but that’s better.
“Sergio? Stop worrying about me, I’m feeling better, see?”
Neither Sergio nor the gunner, though, seemed to hear her. Ami got up from her seat and walked towards them. “Hey! I’m alright. The wound isn’t even hurting any—” No, that’s not right.
She tried moving the wounded shoulder and arm, which she did effortlessly. There’s no way I can move my shoulder like this after getting a bullet there, is there? She looked at her winter camo fatigues, the left sleeve of her jacket mostly covered in congealed blood. Or be standing this soon after bleeding out…
Only then she noticed something out of the corner of her eye. She turned around, and saw a black body bag lying on the floor of the helicopter. “Uhm, guys, who’s that?”
Again, no answer. She walked closer to them, and waved a hand in front of Sergio’s eyes, but there was no reaction. They can’t see or hear me? What’s happening?
She turned back at the body bag, looking at it more carefully. Judging by the length of the body, that person couldn’t have been any taller than her.
No, it can’t be… This is some sort of prank, right?
She walked over to the body bag. It wasn’t in Sergio’s style to pull such a mean prank on her, but at that point she was hoping for that to be the case. She mustered up her courage and grabbed for the bag’s zipper, but her fingers went right through the tab as if it were air. Ami recoiled back in shock, and put a hand on her neck, trying to feel the jugular, but there was no pulse. Where’s my heartbeat… Does it mean that, inside that bag, there’s…?
She fell on her knees and started screaming.
Ami looked at the papers on Sergio’s desk. He had started investigating some things in the days after her death. The leaked mission strategy, the false weather report sent to our extraction helicopter… it all came from Vera?
She turned around as she heard the distinctive sound of a round being chambered. Sergio was sitting on his bed, oddly wearing civilian clothes — a red jacket over black pants — and was slinging his rifle across his back while walking towards the door.
Ami followed him, her heart heavy. She already knew what he was going to do.
Where is everyone? Ami thought as she followed Sergio through the empty corridors. While most of the teams were out on their missions and Colonel Johnson was in Washington for some bureaucratic matter, that night the base was still quieter than it was supposed to be.
Ami kept following Sergio as he entered a small gym — one over which Vera had claimed exclusive rights due to it being her “dojo” or something.
“Fancy seeing you here, Sergio,” Vera said as she jumped down from a pommel horse with a somersault. “What brings you here?”
Sergio didn’t look fazed by her acrobatics. “You can guess by yourself. I know everything, Vera. I’m here to settle matters before you kill more innocents. Those like you have no right to exist.”
Ami looked down. I knew it. He wants to kill her to avenge me. And James, maybe? Was Vera behind that as well?
Vera laughed. “You caught me. So what? They died easily just like the weaklings they were, and the same will happen to you. I wanted to make it look like a battle casualty, but you’re leaving me no choice.”
She pulled out her katana apparently out of nowhere and charged at Sergio, who parried with his rifle before hitting her in the gut with the stock. Vera staggered, a surprised expression on her face. “How on Earth…?”
Sergio calmly pulled out his combat knife from its sheath and attached it to the rifle’s bayonet lug. “I know what you are, Vera. An abomination known as a Mary Sue.”
Ami raised an eyebrow. Isn’t that a term for badly written characters?
Vera scoffed. “Tsk. And now I know why my aura didn’t affect you in the slightest. You’re the same thing, aren’t you?”
Ami noticed a pained expression on Sergio’s face.
“Yes… Probably the only one who’s realized that being a monster isn’t good,” Sergio said as he aimed his rifle and opened fire.
Vera vaulted on the horse, dodging the gunfire before retaliating with her machine pistols. Which, again, Ami couldn’t understand from where they came from, as Vera was wearing only a gymnastics leotard. As the fight went on, though, Ami noticed that reality itself didn’t seem to be applying anymore. I can clearly see the bullets flying as they somehow slowed down… and there’s at least a couple hundred spent casings on the ground, but neither of them has reloaded even once!
Vera swung her katana horizontally, trying to decapitate her opponent. “So you’re a traitor to your own kind? Trying to pass off as a mere human, instead of looking for the success we were made for?”
Sergio ducked, before slashing with the bayonet, missing her just barely. “Success? You’re warping everything around you so you can always have what you want without breaking a sweat. And your answer to your teammates not following your madness was betraying them!”
Vera fired another burst off one of her machine pistols. “If you have a problem with that, you’re free to try killing me. But I doubt you can. You hate our nature… I embrace it!”
“You still don’t know one thing, Vera.” Sergio dodged the bullets and parried her following slash, before charging in with the bayonet. Vera’s breath was cut short as the blade struck her gut. “You’re not the first of our kind that I kill.”
Sergio pulled his weapon out, letting Vera fall on the ground.
“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 pulled out his pistol, a Walther P99 standard issue from Strike Dove, and aimed it at Vera’s heart. “There is no strength in betraying your own allies. Only cowardice.”
Much to Ami’s surprise, though, Sergio didn’t shoot Vera but lowered his 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.”
The room began to shake. Ami instinctively covered her head with her arms, even if falling debris couldn’t hurt her anymore. An earthquake? Right now?
Sergio, however, seemed to take the issue calmly. He simply put away the gun as the building kept 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.”
Sergio then left the room quickly, leaving the wounded Vera behind. Ami followed him, shocked by what she had just seen. That’s… brutal. And not like him at all. She looked down. My death pushed you this far?
Ami was sitting in the passenger seat of Sergio’s Trueno, hugging her knees, as he drove away from the base. She had learned that she could force her ethereal “body” to act as if it could make contact with solid objects, but unfortunately she had found no way to manipulate anything.
Ami kept thinking about everything that had happened. Not only did “Mary Sues” actually exist, but they could make entire organizations at will? No, that’s not right. The Colonel, Raptor Team… There are a lot of people that are too nice to have been made by her.
Much to her surprise, Sergio stopped the car on the side of the road very soon — the base was still in sight. He turned off the engine before leaning back against the seat, looking at the roof. “Where am I even going? It’s useless.”
Ami looked at him. What is he getting at?
“Vera was one hell of a Sue, and yet I overpowered her. I was so angry I let myself relapse, didn’t I?” He leaned forward on the steering wheel, burying his head in his arms. “Everywhere I go, those who get close to me are killed, and there’s nothing I can do about it. Is that my curse? Since I’m such a hard-to-kill abomination, my friends pay for my sins instead?”
Ami clenched her fists. “Stop it!” she shouted, even if she knew that he couldn’t hear her. “You’re a much better person than you think! And there’s no way Vera’s crimes can be—”
Ami gasped as Sergio pulled out his pistol and put it against his head.
“Guess there’s only one way to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
Ami tried to grab his arm, but again her hands just passed through. “No! Stop!”
Before he could pull the trigger, though, Sergio noticed something outside of the car. He put the gun away and opened the door.
Ami sighed in relief before looking for what had made him change his mind. There were two people a few meters ahead, dressed in black and with some kind of flash patch on the sleeve. While they were behind a bush, their attempt to hide was pretty much useless as they were discussing something very animatedly.
Sergio had already started walking towards them, and so Ami followed him.
“… so, that guy is not in the Words, he killed the Sue we were supposed to kill, what are we even supposed to do with him?” one of the two people said. Now that she could see them more clearly, Ami noticed that they were two girls — the one talking was a rather short brunette with two ridiculously long pigtails wearing what looked like a black Navy uniform, while the other was taller, with unnaturally glowing red eyes, and wearing a simple black turtleneck and jeans. Neither of them seemed to have noticed that Sergio had gotten out of the car.
“Dunno, Emily. Might be recruit material, but I’d have to get a CAD scan of him first and my last one kicked the bucket when you tried scanning the Sue, remember? And no, I’m not using my own sensors when—”
The two girls appeared to have noticed Sergio, and readied themselves to battle. Ami widened her eyes as Emily summoned some miniature fighter planes from apparently nowhere while the other girl’s right arm morphed into some kind of gun. What the…?
Sergio raised his hands. “Calm down, I’m surrendering. You’re from that Sue hunting organization, right? I’ve already seen those flash patches.”
The two girls exchanged a glance before taking a few steps towards him. “Well, yes,” the still unnamed one said, “I’m Agent Arumi Knight and she’s my partner, Emily Geofon. Department of Mary Sues of the Protectors of the Plot Continuum. And I would really appreciate to know why you’ve been running around in this fic pretending to be part of it.”
Sergio raised an eyebrow. “First of all, what fic? This is the world I was born in…”
“If I wasn’t involved in this first-hand, I’d think this is the kind of mission one of the guys from Implausible Crossovers would be telling about after having a couple drinks too much at Rudy’s,” Arumi said after hearing a quick summary of Sergio’s past. “From what I can tell, we don’t know who you are just because this fic is a recursive fanfiction of your fanfiction, but so in-name-only that the Words refused to believe you were actually around. Or something. Anyways, you weren’t supposed to be here, but here you are and you even somehow knew a little about the PPC already. Now, the problem is: what are we supposed to do with you? We don’t even have an Intel report of your fic around, oddly enough.”
Ami tried to wrap her head around what she had just discovered. So I’m actually a fictional character?
Sergio raised his hands again. “Well, I know already that I am a Stu, so if you want to put me out of my misery I’m going to make it easy. I won’t fight back.”
Emily glanced at her partner before looking back at him. “But… if you know you are one, and know it is wrong… that means you’re not a danger, right?”
Arumi nodded. “Damn right. As much as I appreciate a kill served on a silver platter, if we kill you we’re getting yelled at.”
Sergio raised an eyebrow. “Why?”
Arumi smiled. “Because you might actually be fit to work with us misfits. We’re perpetually understaffed, so the Marquis is gonna complain if we kill a potential recruit.”
“It’s not like I have anywhere else to go, right?” Sergio sighed. “Alright, lead the way if you’re OK with a not really human colleague.”
Both of the girls started laughing. “You’re way more human than we are, kid. I’m a cyborg who usually has a car as her body, my partner here is the personification of an aircraft carrier, and our bosses are… well, plants. Bossy telepathic plants.”
Sergio raised an eyebrow again, but shrugged right afterwards. “Seen weirder.”
“What did I tell you, Emily? He’s gonna fit just fine.”
Ami followed Sergio as he entered PPC HQ’s Response Center 1587 for the first time. It’s been several days since I died… and yet, no matter what I do I always end up around him, even now that he’s not in our world anymore.. She looked down at her hands. Am I one of those ghosts who can’t get to the afterlife due to having to do something first?
Sergio laid down his belongings quickly before unrolling his sleeping bag.
“You’re not even going to get a proper bed? That’s not good!” Ami shouted at him, but it was useless. Right… He can’t hear me. If I’m supposed to help him… how can I? I can’t do anything as I am right now.
Sergio started rustling through his gym bag, having probably changed his mind on going to sleep. He took two Ace Combat games from it, 04 and Zero, and held both in his hands for a while before putting the disc of 04 into the console. Once the game loaded up, he moved the cursor on “VS Mode” for a few seconds before going to “Free mission”.
“Guess I’m going to make do with single player from now on,” he said, his voice little more than a somber whisper. “If I fight alone, there will be no betrayals… and no losses.”
“No, that’s not right,” Ami said, hugging him from behind. But, again, he could not hear or feel her. “You don’t have to be alone.”
She started crying quietly. There must be something I can do for him.
“Ahem…” someone said with a feminine voice from behind her.
Ami turned around, and she found a girl with long, pink hair, golden eyes and a long, flowing white dress. Sergio hasn’t noticed her either… is she another ghost? “Uhm… Who are you?”
“Well… they call me Law of Cycles… will call me Law of Cycles?” the girl said, looking up. She seemed rather confused. “You can call me Madoka though. Sorry if I’m being a bit pushy, Ami, but… I have your same problem with a friend of mine, as well.”
“… You know me?”
“Oh, well, I’m… kind of a goddess? Anyways, I know things will become rough both for him and for that friend of mine, and neither of us will be able to do anything on her own.”
Ami started feeling intrigued. “How do you know?”
“I’m everywhere and everywhen. Don’t ask me how it works, it just is that way?”
Ami raised an eyebrow. Despite being presumably an ageless goddess, Madoka gave her the feeling of not being any older than her.
“Anyways, what I wanted to talk about with you was this. Things aren’t looking good for our friends… but we can make it alright if we help each other helping them. If you give me a few minutes, I can explain.”
Ami glanced back at Sergio, who was still playing Ace Combat completely unaware, and took a deep breath, determination swelling inside her. “You don’t need to tell me any more. I’m in.”