And so, we’ve finally reached the last chapter of Blank Sprite.
Special thanks go to my usual beta readers, Doctorlit and Hieronymus Graubart, who helped me with most of the later chapters including this one.
I also want to thank again those who helped me with the earlier ones, who are (in chronological order): Desdendelle, Firemagic AKA KarrinBlue, DawnFire AKA Zingenmir, Outhra, Son_of_heaven176, Iximaz, Mattman the Comet, Tesla and Eatpraylove.
Special thanks go to two more people, too:
Aelit, who was one of the other “culprits” with which I had written Mai Dire Fine, the badfic from which Sergio and Nikki come from, and is now looking to become a professional editor. She gave me a lot of advice, and even took up her characters (Kathleen and Faith) again to help me write an important scene.
Jos Ploegmakers, a long time friend and indie game developer. He lent me JJ Colt and his squad from his World In Danger run’n’gun shooter, and we’ve been supporting each other in our creative quests.
Thank you all guys, your help was very important in this project.
Mission Record 15 – The reason to fight
Sergio sighed in relief once the C-130’s cargo door closed. “And this is done.”
He walked back to his group. Corolla and Josh were looking into the satellite photos, while Homura was looking at a UAV parked on the apron.
Sergio noticed that someone was missing. “Nikki isn’t back yet?”
“Maybe she isn’t feeling well?” Corolla lifted up her head from the holographic window she was looking into. “I can go check on her if you want.”
“Please do.” Sergio then walked next to Homura. “Don’t try pocketing that.”
“I was just curious as to what it is,” Homura said, though her expression said otherwise.
“This is an MQ-9 Reaper, a drone used for surveillance and light strike duties. One from the Italian Aeronautica Militare, judging by the roundels.” Sergio rubbed his chin. “Though I wonder why this one’s here. Malpensa is a civilian airport, the only reason why C-5s land here is because this is one of the few airports with a long enough runway in Southern Europe.”
Josh got up from the crate he was sitting on. “I overheard a couple of pilots earlier discussing it. It made an emergency landing here during a training flight due to a faulty generator the other day. They already fixed it; it will fly back to its base next morning.”
“Ah, that makes sense. I guess it is easier to replace the generator here than to pack the entire thing on a truck.”
“Guys!” Corolla screamed, running towards them. She was holding something in her hands, but she was too far for Sergio to see what it was.
“What’s the matter? And where’s Nikki?”
“She wasn’t in the bathroom, but I found Vanguard on the ground!” Corolla showed them the star-shaped Device. “She would never leave it around like that, so I’m afraid something bad—” Corolla started hyperventilating.
Before Sergio could question her further, his phone started ringing. “A video call…?” He accepted it, and Vera appeared on the screen.
[Hello, Sergio.] She was driving some kind of sportscar, judging by the low roof and high pitched engine noise. [I think you’ve noticed that your girlfriend disappeared, right?]
Vera turned her phone, showing him that Nikki was sitting on the passenger seat, apparently unconscious.
“What have you done to her?”
[Don’t worry, she’s just asleep. For now. It all depends on your next choice.]
“Do even as little as to pluck a single strand of hair from her head, Vera, and I’m going to—”
[What? Kill me? You already wanted to do that, so what’s the difference? Besides, I think you should listen to the choices you have first.]
Sergio gritted his teeth. Vera was holding the metaphorical knife by the handle, and what was worse was that for once she wasn’t aiming it at him but at Nikki.
[Now, as you apparently already know my base of operation is in Venice. I’m headed there, and I’ll even tell you the exact location: Palazzo Ca’ D’Oro. Yes, it’s standing once again. If you want to save your girlfriend, you’ll have to come and beat me there. But there’s a catch.] Vera did a slasher smile. [Those two other girls I had kidnapped? They’re not there. I left them in a warehouse guarded by some of my men not far from where you are… I’ll send you the exact coordinates with a text.]
“And what’s the point in telling me this?” Sergio had tried to sound confident, but dread was starting to take him over.
[Simple: you can’t save them all. If you go to save Madoka and Sakura, I’ll kill your girlfriend. Chase me down to save her, and I’ll have my men kill the other two. So, will you be a good PPC Agent and save canon, forfeiting this cute girl’s life in the process, or will you doom two universes just to save her?]
[No, I’m not! Take all the time you want, it’s a very important decision after all.]
Vera closed the call, but Sergio kept staring at the phone’s screen.
“OK… What are we going to do now? We need a plan,” Josh said.
Sergio’s hands started to shake. “I… I can’t make this kind of choice.” The phone slipped out of his hands and clattered on the ground.
“Sergio?” Corolla called out with concern in her voice.
I cannot let the Madoka Magica and Cardcaptor Sakura continua be destroyed like this. But… I can’t sacrifice Nikki! Why… Why is this happening? I… I should’ve kept an eye on her.
He kept ignoring Corolla, Josh and Homura’s voices as he kept thinking about the two options, his brain stuck in a loop.
Corolla slapped his face twice. “Will you get a fucking grip already?”
Sergio stared at her. It was rare to see Corolla angry at all, and now she was pissed off. “Corolla…?”
“I refuse to believe you’re giving up already! That’s not the Sergio I know. You said you had single-handedly wiped out the evil organization that was ruling this world, right? Then saving all three of them should be easy for you! Stop trying to dismiss your fame as a hero, live up to it instead!” She clenched her fists. “With all the effort I took to bring you and Nikki back together, like hell I’m letting the death flags win! So get your ass into gear and come up with a plan already! I know you can!”
“But… The only way to save everyone would be for me to be in two places at once! I can’t…” He looked down, and his eyes fell on the DORKS hanging from his belt. “Or maybe I can?”
Corolla crossed her arms. “I hope your next sentence starts with ‘I have a plan’.”
Sergio glanced at the MQ-9 again. “I think I do. It’s crazy, but it will have to do. Corolla, can you hack into that thing?”
“Sure thing, why?” Corolla beamed. “Don’t tell me, you’re letting me…”
“Get a new toy. Vera’s headed to Venice, which means her most likely route is State Road 336, then A8 and A4 highways. She’s a Porsche fanatic, and the engine of the car she was driving sounded like a V10, so I think you should look for a Porsche Carrera GT. Black, considering her taste in colors.”
Corolla opened up a few holographic windows and started typing on a holographic keyboard. “Let me guess. I’m going to hunt her down from above?”
“Yes, but keep the drone high enough for her to not notice, I just need to keep her in sight until everything is in motion. Can you do that?”
The MQ-9’s turboprop engine whirred to life. “Roger that, Captain… no, wait, Lieutenant Colonel!”
Sergio shook his head, and unhooked the DORKS from his belt before tossing it to Josh. “You wanted to try the PPC’s gadgets, JJ? Now you can.”
Josh looked at the small metal cube in confusion. “What does this thing do?”
“It’s a surprise. Homura, how are your ammo reserves?”
“I’ve still got plenty.”
“Perfect. All we need now is a couple more cars, and I know where to get them.”
Sergio parked the Volvo inside the courtyard of a small house not too far from the airport. “Welcome to my humble home, though we won’t be staying here for long.”
Corolla scratched her head as they left the car. “So you actually did have a place to go.”
Sergio opened the garage door. “We’ll talk about that another time. Do you have visual on Vera?”
“Yes. She’s on the A8 right now, near Milan. She’s going pretty fast.”
Sergio walked inside the garage. There were two cars covered by tarpaulins, and he went straight to the closer one. “Josh, I remember you wanted to try my Trueno, didn’t you?”
“Yeah, but you never let anyone touch it.”
Sergio removed the tarpaulin and tossed him the keys. “I’m making an exception for today. It will make your role in this plan more believable. Don’t rev it past eight thousand.”
“OK… But you won’t be chasing down Vera with that Volvo, will you?”
Sergio walked towards the other car. “I never told you I have another one, did I? There’s only one car I have access to right now that is fast enough to allow me to catch Vera before she gets to Venice.”
He took a deep breath and removed the second tarpaulin, revealing an old, red saloon of indiscernible model with a big rear wing and a yellow lightning bolt painted on each side.
Corolla’s eyes widened, probably having recognized the car from a description in Sergio’s badfic. “Don’t tell me, that’s… the Stormer?”
Sergio nodded. “From the time I was a Gary Stu… the biggest of my Suvian artifacts. I’ve been hiding it here for years… but I’m not afraid of it, or of my past anymore. I’m not running away anymore.” He opened the car’s door.
Josh raised an eyebrow. “That old saloon is fast enough to catch up with a Carrera GT?”
“Don’t be fooled by the looks. Under this boxy body there’s a full spaceframe race car with a heavily tuned three liter Busso V6. Supercharger, twin turbo, nine hundred horsepower.”
Josh raised an eyebrow. “Nine hundred? I thought there was no way to push those Alfa Romeo engines past seven hundred… and that would still be a track only build.”
Sergio turned on the engine, its angry growl filling the garage. “That is indeed why this car is a Suvian artifact, and why I planned on never touching it again. But I guess I’ll have to drive it one last time. I don’t have any other choice.”
Sergio glanced at Corolla, then at Josh. “Also, keep an eye on her for me, OK?”
Much to his surprise, Sergio found that controlling the monstrous power of the Stormer wasn’t much harder than it had been when he was a Gary Stu.
Muscle memory really never dies, huh? he thought as he neared the highway access ramp, a long right hand turn. Stomp hard on the brakes, weight shifts on the front axle. Steer into the curve, the rear end loses grip and starts sliding out. Countersteer and full throttle.
The car reacted just as expected, going through the corner on a four wheel drift. Sergio kept his foot down once on the highway too, quickly going through the gears of the sequential gearbox. It was already late enough in the night for traffic to be very sparse, which meant it was easier to push hard.
I’m already going faster than the Carrera GT can go, Sergio mused as the digital tachometer read three hundred and forty kilometers per hour, and I’m still in sixth.
The car’s stereo reached the end of the song it was playing, and switched to Ready To Roll by Jet Black Stare.
Sergio raised an eyebrow. I’m pretty sure this song can’t be on this USB drive, it came out when I was at Strike Dove. “Wanting to make your last ride epic, huh? Can get behind that, but…”
He slammed in the seventh gear. “I’m so going to need a check on my glitter levels after this.”
Josh glanced at his hands while driving Sergio’s old Sprinter Trueno. “This is so weird.”
Corolla raised a finger, sitting on the back bench and surrounded by holographic windows. “Don’t worry, it is just temporary. As far as I know, there’s no way to be permanently stuck in a disguise.”
“I hope so. How about the timing?”
“Keep driving as you are; Sergio’s making good progress as well so we’re good.”
Josh glanced at her through the rear view mirror. “Out of curiosity… just how fast is his other car? A Carrera GT can do two hundred miles an hour, and he is catching up?”
Corolla opened yet another window. “Well, Vera isn’t pushing to the limit; she probably doesn’t expect Sergio to have brought out the big guns. But, still, according to the data sheet the Stormer is… fast.”
“How much so?”
“Enough to keep up with a Veyron.”
Vera glanced at the unconscious girl next to her. “What does he find in someone like you?” she muttered to herself. Sure, you’ve got a cute face, but that hair is the most plain shade of brown imaginable. And the hairdo? ‘Hair intakes’ went out of fashion years ago.
Vera then looked down at her chest. You’re a disappointment there, too. Mine are at least two sizes bigger! He really has a bad taste in girls.
Nikki moved slightly and opened her eyes. “Where… am I?” She tried to raise her hands, but she was handcuffed to the seat.
“Looks like our sleeping beauty has woken up.” Vera grinned. “Too bad the prince won’t be able to save you.”
Nikki glared back at her. “I’m sure he will. He always did.”
Vera turned towards her. Keep dreaming, girl. “Not this time. See, I’ve given your boyfriend a little, challenging choice. Save those two other girls, or save you.” She grinned. “If he decides to save the Goddess and that other version of you, I’ll kill you, and then kill him while he’s busy crying over your death. If he tries to save you, instead, well I’m killing him while he tries.”
Surprisingly, Nikki didn’t look like she was fazed by what she had just said. “You’re too sure about this.”
Vera scoffed. You sure have a lot of faith in that loser.
Sergio brought a hand next to his ear. While Strike Dove’s CODEC system was down, Vanguard’s relay function was still working fine. “Robogirl, I need an update.”
[We’re ready to go in as soon as you give us the okay, Lightning. Where are you?]
Sergio just had the time to give a quick glance at the signs above the highway before it was already past him. “I’m passing Brescia now. Where is Venom?”
[Venom…? Oh, right, Vera. Just a couple kilometers ahead of you.]
“Good. Let’s put the plan in motion, then.”
Sergio closed the CODEC call, and selected another frequency, one he hadn’t used in years. The call connected, even if no one spoke on the other end. “I know you’re listening. Can I ask you one last favor…?”
Several kilometers ahead, a short, black haired girl ran on an overpass and lay down about halfway through. She unfolded the bipod of an Mk14 marksman rifle and started taking aim in the distance, following the highway below.
“If my Area Search was correct, we have six hostiles left,” Corolla said as she, Josh and Homura took cover behind some crates. Homura pulled out a grenade from her shield and tossed it over the crates.
“Make that four.” Corolla corrected herself after the detonation.
Josh let out a short laugh before opening fire with his M4, taking a Defective down. “I like her approach to stuff. Have a problem? Use massive firepower to solve it.”
As if to prove what he was saying, Homura fired a long burst with her Minimi, mowing down another Defective.
Corolla rubbed her chin, apparently unfazed by the gunfire around her. “By the way, we’ve been calling them ‘Defectives’ this whole time but that’s not quite what they are, after all that term was—”
Josh raised an eyebrow. “Does it matter once they’re all dead?”
“Well, probably not, but…”
The gunfire ceased, and Homura put her machinegun away. “Done.”
“See? We can call them just ‘dead bodies’ now,” Josh said as Homura ran towards the door that the Defectives had been guarding.
“I can’t believe he took that choice,” Vera said, looking at the screen of the car’s infotainment system. On it, Sergio, Corolla and Homura were freeing Madoka and Sakura from their cell. “I thought he would choose you in the end.”
Nikki looked at the footage carefully. There’s something wrong. Where’s Colt? She squinted, looking at Sergio more carefully. It looked like him, but the body posture was off. Wait, the rifle he’s holding… That’s not his ARX, is it?
Vera smiled. “Not that it changes anything for me. Enjoy your last ride, Nikki. Your life will end once we arrive at Venice. You know, it would be a shame to splatter this car with blood.”
Suddenly the sound of another car’s engine could be heard over that of Vera’s car, a lower pitched angry growl that Nikki recognized right away. Can it be…
“Hey, who’s that?” Vera said, looking in the rearview mirror. “Stop flashing at me with that old rustbucket, I can beat you whenever I want with this!”
“I don’t think you can. Sergio’s very good at driving.” Even if he can be quite reckless, Nikki added, remembering why that car’s engine sound was so vividly burned in her memory.
“But that isn’t him, he’s… Wait…” Vera’s eyes widened as the ‘Sergio’ on the car’s screen suddenly morphed into Josh. “This was one of his tricks!”
Nikki studied the look in her eyes. Things aren’t going as she expected. If my hunch is correct, this means that…
Vera floored the accelerator, but her driving wasn’t as smooth anymore: at the first turn she had to wrestle with the steering wheel as the car started to slide out of the intended line. As I thought, she panics if things don’t go as she wants. She looked at Vera’s clothes. Her spy catsuit was actually ripped in some places, and she could see the bandages underneath. Raging Blossom must’ve done a number on her, as well.
Vera kept driving as fast as she could, her car veering dangerously close to the guardrails at every change of direction, be it a bend in the road or some traffic to dodge. “I can’t believe it… I’m at redline in sixth, and he’s still tailgating me? This is the best car Porsche ever made; he can’t be faster than me! Unless he’s back being…” Vera didn’t finish the sentence as she did her best to not crash into a truck, avoiding it just barely.
Nikki noticed how Vera’s knuckles had become white as she clutched the steering wheel desperately. It might be dangerous, but if I can drive her further into panic she might give in. “You can’t get away from him… not now. Just stop. It isn’t too late to settle this peacefully.”
“No, I’ll beat him! By the time we’re at Venice, I’ll have built enough of a lead to—”
“Vera, do you know what was his strongest skill when he was a Gary Stu? Not fighting or shooting, but driving! And that car is the one he used back then. It will go as fast as he wants it to.” Nikki glanced at the speedometer. “You said we’re already at your car’s limit, right? It’s three hundred and thirty… and I saw Sergio’s car do four hundred!”
“No, this must be another trick of his,” Vera said, though it was clear that she was trying to convince herself more than Nikki. “He would never let himself turn back into a Stu.”
Nikki resisted the urge to bit her lip. I hope he didn’t, too. “You’ve researched his past, right? Then you know what’s his berserk button.”
“Harming Sakura, yeah yeah. Why do you think I… No, wait…”
“That ‘Sakura’ was me. And you know what happened when he thought I had been killed, right…? or, rather, what happened to those he considered responsible.”
Vera stared at her for a couple seconds before being able to come up with an answer. “Still, I want to see how he can stop me!”
There was a yellow flash from an overpass in front of them, and something hit the front of the car.
“Hah! So this was the trick. Distracting me from behind while someone else tried to snipe me down! But it didn’t work.”
Nikki glanced at the steam trailing from under the car’s hood. No, if they killed you now we would’ve had a very bad crash. They weren’t aiming for you. What’s your plan, Sergio…?
Vera took the first exit out of the highway. “And I’m not letting them get another chance at taking potshots at me.”
Nikki glanced at the dashboard while the Carrera GT sped through the narrow roads of an old town, the Stormer still in hot pursuit behind. I get it now. The temperature of the engine is rising quickly, that shot must’ve hit the radiator. It won’t be long before the engine fails, especially since it’s being pushed this hard.
Vera glanced into the rearview mirror. “It’s just like that time; he’s still there, drifting on my tail, no matter what I do! But it won’t end the same way!”
Her driving showed otherwise though, as she scraped the side of the car against the wall in the following corner, sparks flying everywhere.
Unless she crashes into something first. She’s getting really desperate.
Sergio frowned as sparks bounced off his car’s windshield. This is getting dangerous. I was counting on her driving becoming sloppier under pressure like when she challenged me on the radar tower road, but if she keeps this up she’s going to have an accident. Normally I wouldn’t mind, but… Nikki’s in there too.
He feathered the throttle while accelerating out of another bend, letting Vera build a few meters of advantage. Besides, it would be better if her engine fails outside of town. A firefight here could easily get innocent people involved.
“And one part of our job is done!” Corolla said cheerfully as she closed the portal after Sakura had gone through. “Now, to get the two of you home we first need to…”
Corolla smiled as she saw Homura still holding Madoka in a tight hug.
“It’s alright, Homura. They didn’t do anything to me. You saved me this time… you really did.”
Homura shook her head. “It’s just… I missed you. I missed you so much.”
Madoka hugged her back. “I know. “
“You’re going to have to go again?”
Madoka looked down. “Yes.” She released Homura and took a step back. “As soon as the two worlds get separated, I’ll be back being the Law of Cycles. But I’ll be watching over you. Even if you won’t be able to see me, I’ll be always with you. I’ve always been with you. I’m everywhere and everywhen, remember?”
Homura wiped off some tears from her face. “Of course.”
Corolla fiddled with some setting on a holographic window. “Sorry to interrupt you two lovebirds…” She grinned at the simultaneous blushing of the two girls. “But Sergio might need some help, so… Hm, nevermind. Looks like the portal-blocking anomaly is still there, it’s just that it’s now much smaller. And centered on Vera, as I thought.”
Josh crossed his arms. “So no warping around for us?”
“Well, we can still take quite a bit of a shortcut, so let’s get back to the car. Wherever Sergio manages to stop Vera, we need to be there as soon as possible to help.”
Josh raised an eyebrow. “I agree with the plan, but… wasn’t I supposed to be in charge here?”
“Shush. When the mission is to keep my favorite couple safe, I’m always the one leading.”
Sergio started putting more pressure on Vera once the chase had moved to the country roads around the town. The road is surrounded by fields, so if she makes a mistake she’ll just—
The rear wheels of the Carrera GT suddenly locked up, sending the car spinning into one of the fields, the Stormer continuing on the road instead due to the momentum.
The engine must’ve seized completely, Sergio thought as he turned his car around and drove near to where the Carrera GT had stopped. Vera had already jumped out of her car, and sprayed Sergio’s with bullets from her machine pistols.
For once, I’m glad that I claimed this car was bulletproof, alongside all the other implausible things, Sergio thought as the bullets just bounced off harmlessly.
Vera ran away towards the ruins of an old farmhouse, possibly realizing that her shooting wasn’t having any effect. Sergio exited the car and fired a few bursts at her with his assault rifle. Vera staggered, at least one of the bullets hitting her, before managing to get inside the ruins.
Sergio ran over to the Carrera GT, dread in his heart despite the adrenaline from the chase. His plan was relying on Vera being too busy driving to harm Nikki, but what if Vera killed her as soon as she realized she had been played? He pulled open the door screaming Nikki’s name.
“I’m OK; she didn’t manage to hurt me.” Nikki raised her wrists, showing him the handcuffs. “Though I’d appreciate if you could do something about these.”
Sergio got Vanguard out of a pocket, and put it in her hands. “This helps?”
As an answer, Nikki summoned her Barrier Jacket, the transformation blasting the handcuffs open. “This feels much better.”
“And I feel better too knowing you’re alright.”
Nikki got up from the car’s seat. “What about Vera?”
“She took shelter in that farmhouse. I think I’ve managed to hit her, but I doubt that was enough to bring her down.”
Nikki rubbed her chin. “She’s still injured from when I fought her on the tower, too. And she’s starting to feel the pressure. From what I saw, when things don’t go as she wants—”
“She freaks out. One of the reasons that convinced me to bring out the Stormer one last time,” Sergio completed for her. “I’d wait for the others, but we need to keep the pressure on if we want a chance to get her for good. Ready to go in?”
Nikki set up Vanguard in Saber form. “Of course.”
Sergio and Nikki stepped inside the farmhouse behind the cover of one of the girl’s Round Shields. The place had clearly seen better days: most of the roof and several awnings had collapsed, and the internal courtyard was full with overgrown plants.
“This place must’ve been abandoned at least fifty years ago.” Sergio looked around. “There aren’t many places in which she can be hiding.”
“Wait, there’s something on the ground.” Nikki looked more carefully. The faint glow of Vanguard’s energy blade was illuminating some dark stains. “It looks like blood. If Vera’s bleeding, we can follow them to her.”
Sergio nodded. “Let’s try to do that as silently as possible. We want to get the jump on her, not the other way around, so maybe you should shift to Lancer form for now.”
Nikki did as she was asked, and Sergio nodded in satisfaction. A glowing energy blade was a very visible target in the night, after all. They proceeded carefully, following the stains using the moonlight, eventually reaching the closed, wooden door of an old shed.
“Nikki, do you still have any flashbangs left?”
Nikki nodded and pulled out a flashbang. She brought it near her mouth, only to be stopped by Sergio waving no at her.
“If you keep pulling pins with your teeth, I’m not gonna pay your dental expenses.”
Nikki muffled a laugh, and pulled the pin the proper way. Sergio opened the door, and she tossed the grenade in.
“What the—” Someone, Vera judging by the voice, shouted from inside, followed by a pained scream as the flashbang detonated.
Sergio and Nikki entered the room, weapons at the ready. Vera was kneeling in the middle of the room, rubbing her eyes. The ground under her was stained with blood — the bullet from the previous firefight had wounded her in one of the legs. Nikki lost no time and cast Ring Bind around her wrists.
“A flashbang…” Vera said as she struggled against the energy rings. “That’s just cowardly!”
“No. That’s just proper tactics.” Sergio walked in front of her, and noticed that her expression was still one of full, unadulterated rage. “But I’m not going to have this discussion with you again…. You just don’t listen, thinking you’re always right.”
“I am! I’M THE BEST! You… You shouldn’t have been able to beat me!”
Sergio nodded slowly. “That’s right. One on one, I can’t beat you. But, see, there’s one thing. One I took some time to understand myself.” He turned towards Nikki. “I’m not alone. I have friends who fight at my side, and we protect each other. If I fall, they pick me up, and I’ll do the same for them.”
Sergio then aimed his rifle straight between Vera’s eyes. “You? You’ve driven everyone away, or even killed them. And that’s why you lost. Though, since I’m not really a PPC Agent anymore… Nikki, can you do the honors?”
Nikki shook her head. “No, this is your case, remember?”
Sergio let out a short laugh. “Alright. I’m Sergio Turbo, Lieutenant Colonel of Strike Dove Incorporated, and former Protectors of the Plot Continuum Agent. Major Vera Heartbound, you’re charged with the following: being a Mary Sue, defecting from Strike Dove and attacking its main headquarters, multiple counts of attempted murder of Strike Dove personnel, the murder of James Donovan and Ami Tanegashima, the kidnapping of canon characters Sakura Kinomoto and Madoka Kaname and PPC Agent Nikki Cherryflower, and the attempted murder of canon character Homura Akemi and myself. Oh, and putting three entire universes at risk just to achieve that last one. The sentence is death. Any last words?”
“I hate you!” Vera screamed as hard as she could.
“I knew that already.” Sergio pulled the trigger, sending a bullet straight through Vera’s head. She fell sideways, eyes wide open. Sergio checked her pulse, and sighed in relief when he found none. “It’s over.”
He engaged the safety on his rifle and sat on the ground, back against the wall. “It’s really over.”
Nikki transformed out of her Barrier Jacket and sat next to him. “Do you feel better now?”
“Yes and no. I know she won’t be able to do any harm anymore, but aside from that I feel more of… an emptiness. It didn’t have to go this way. If only she could…” He stopped, unable to find the right words.
“Understand what you did?” someone said from the door. “That’s not something she would ever do.”
Even if he already knew that that girl was somehow still around, Sergio was still surprised to see Ami standing in the doorframe, her signature Mk14 marksman rifle in hand. He got up and took a few steps towards her. “So… it was really you after all. But… How? And why?”
Ami fidgeted a bit. “You know, sometimes you have something to do before you’re able to move on.”
“And that was why you helped us stop Vera?”
“Not really. You’ve been such a great friend to me, Sergio… the only friend I had. This was the only way I could make things even… the only way I could thank you for taking care of me.”
Nikki walked next to them. “We’re the ones who should say ‘thanks’. If it weren’t for you…”
Sergio noticed that Ami was starting to become transparent. “Ami, you’re…”
Ami looked at her hands. “Time’s up, I guess. “
“So it’s a goodbye?”
Ami nodded. “We will meet again someday… but it’s better for the two of you if it is as far from now as possible. So take care and be happy, OK?”
Sergio looked down. “We will. And… Thank you for everything. I wish there was something I could do for you, but—”
Ami smiled, even if she was now just barely visible. “Well… If you end up having a daughter, don’t give her my name. Let her be her own person. That’s all I ask for.” As she said that, Ami disappeared completely.
Sergio took a deep breath. “She… really is gone now, huh?”
Nikki nodded slowly. “Yes. But she did so with no regrets. That’s something, right?”
“Yeah.” Sergio shook his head. “Alright, no time for sentimentalism. Now that Vera is out of the picture, we have to figure out if our world and the Madoka Magica continuum did indeed—”
The ground shook, briefly but with enough force to make them both fall, Nikki landing on Sergio.
“Er… I guess that was the signal for it happening?” Nikki said, her cheeks flushed. “Also, sorry.”
“Hey, you’re improving. No accidental kiss this time… though that wouldn’t have been a problem now.”
Both started laughing, and only stopped when they heard some footsteps.
“The cavalry has arrived!” Corolla shouted, entering the room first. She started giggling as soon as she noticed the position in which her partners were.
Josh muffled a laugh. “Did we just interrupt something?”
Sergio and Nikki quickly got up. “No!”
“C’mon, guys, a little bit of patience,” Corolla said. “We’re almost done here; we’ll give you some privacy later.”
“Corolla? Shut up.” Sergio then noticed the two people standing behind Corolla and Josh. “Uhm… The two worlds split up again, right? Because if that’s the case, then either Homura and Madoka or the rest of us are still misplaced.”
Madoka fidgeted. “Uhm… Something might not have worked as I expected.”
Corolla tilted her head. “Madoka, what are you—”
There was a ringing sound, and Corolla opened up one of her holographic windows. “Oh, it’s the Sunflower. Agent Corolla reporting for duty, sir!”
[I am pleased to see that the mission has been successful, Agents. I have just been informed that the missing canon characters are all back to their continua.]
Corolla glanced at the two girls from Madoka Magica. “But… er…”
[I see. This is one of the reasons why I was against deputizing Homura Akemi. Both her and Madoka Kaname were altered enough by this situation that their most recent uncanonical selves split off from their canonical counterparts.]
“Wait a minute here. Your previous boss was a sentient plant?” Josh whispered to Sergio while the Sunflower continued expressing his dissatisfaction on the last turn of events.
“Yeah. Time to show him the way back to the flower pot, though.” Sergio stepped in front of the holographic window. “Excuse me, Sunflower Official, but you’re trying to tell me that a person’s existence was a mistake?”
[We can see it that way.]
“I’d like you to take into consideration one thing, though. What is the universe in which both of those two girls became separate individuals from the Madoka Magica canon characters?”
[As it happened after the Madoka Magica continuum split from yours, it happened in the latter. Why are you asking?]
Sergio smirked. “Because, if I remember correctly, this universe, MDF-2006-413-QT, had been reclassified into an original several years ago. Which means you’re hassling us over something the PPC has no jurisdiction over… after all, didn’t you say yourself that they aren’t Madoka Kaname and Homura Akemi?”
“That’s right!” Madoka said. “My name is Aya, and she’s my best friend, Kuroko! We definitely aren’t Madoka and Homura.”
[Fine. I assume Agents Turbo and Cherryflower’s intention to resign is final?]
Sergio glanced at Nikki, who nodded. “Yes.”
[Alright. I will be waiting for Agent Corolla’s mission report, then.] The Sunflower closed the call.
Nikki looked at Madoka, or rather “Aya”. “Wait… Why did you have those names ready right away?”
Aya fidgeted. “Well… Contingency plan. Things haven’t worked out like I hoped.”
Corolla crossed her arms. “OK, can you please explain things from the beginning? I believe you might know some stuff we don’t. Like why our friendly neighborhood ghost sniper girl was following us.”
Aya took a deep breath. “It’s simple. When Madoka and I were the same individual, we were everywhere and everywhen, we could see all the possible universes. Which includes the sequel Madoka Magica will get next year. And it was just too cruel to Homura.” She turned towards her. “There will be more suffering, and Homura will break and do things even she knows are bad, just to keep Madoka safe. And, at the same time, we saw that a trio of PPC Agents who had been keeping our universe safe were in great danger of not making it through a very dangerous mission. That wasn’t right, so we… pulled some strings. For example, with a little help from me Ami was able to briefly materialize when it was needed.”
Nikki rubbed her chin. “Don’t tell me… Vera didn’t manage to kidnap you. You let her?”
Aya nodded. “Yes. With Ami’s help, I could get Homura involved. You would have some extra help, and she would meet some nice people with whom she could relate.” She glanced at “Kuroko”. “That way, when the bad things our author had in mind happened, you would’ve been stronger and you wouldn’t break. Things went a bit differently, though. The other me will have to try the other plan… I hope it works in the end.”
Corolla crossed her arms. “The Bat-Gambit Of The Year prize goes to Madoka, hands down.”
Kuroko had a shocked look on her face. “You put yourself in danger for me?”
Aya took her hands. “You’re my best friend, and you’ve always done the same for me.” She laughed. “We look after each other, but we’re really bad at looking after ourselves.”
Kuroko laughed as well. “True. So… I guess we’ll be together forever now?”
Kuroko took the red ribbons off her hair, and started tying up Aya’s hair with them. “Then I won’t be needing these anymore… I think they suit you better, too.”
Aya tried to shoo her off. “But I wanted you to keep them…! Wait.” She took one of the ribbons, and handed it back to Kuroko before tying her own hair into a ponytail with the other. “We can have one each! Matching is so nice after all.”
“Yes.” Kuroko smiled. “Still, what are we going to do now?”
“Well…” Aya turned towards Josh. “How old do you have to be to be a civilian volunteer, again?”
Kuroko sighed. “Here we go again…”
“So…” Josh said while Aya and Kuroko kept arguing on whether it was a good idea to join Strike Dove or not, “What are you going to do now, Sergio? If you hadn’t understood it already from the Colonel, the door is still open for you if you want to keep working for Strike Dove.”
“I appreciate the offer, but…” Sergio glanced at Nikki. “I have too much to lose, and people who don’t want to lose me. Besides, a life of fighting is not what I want for her.”
“So this was your last battle?”
Sergio nodded. “Hopefully, yes. But, then again, life doesn’t always play nicely along, so…”
“We’ll fight back if anything happens,” Nikki completed for him.
Josh pulled out his smartphone. “Not every battle is fought on a battlefield, right? Just give me a minute; I have to inform the Colonel that Vera is no longer a problem.”
Corolla sighed. “Now that you make me think about it, I really should get back to HQ before the Sunflower gets too nervous.”
Sergio rustled through his pockets. “While you’re at it, can you get DoSAT to pick up the Stormer?” He handed her the car’s keys. “I’m sure they’d like to dismantle a Suvian car, and I don’t think I’ll need it anymore.”
“Aww, it’s a shame! Well, sure, I can do that…” Corolla tossed the keys back at him. “But I want to get a ride in it first!”
Sergio took a deep breath, but smiled. “I guess I owe you that.”
The following morning, Sergio looked around in surprise as he woke up. Right, I’m home. How many years have passed since I last woke up in my room? He then glanced at the alarm clock. Well, we really needed some rest.
Sergio turned towards Nikki, who was still asleep at his side. She looks so cute while asleep… I almost don’t want to wake her up.
He kissed her on the forehead. “Time to get up.”
Nikki opened her eyes only halfway before snuggling against him. “Just five minutes more. The console isn’t going to blare at us anymore; we can sleep as much as we can.”
“Yeah, but it’s noon already.”
Nikki bolted up, completely awake. “Noon?”
Sergio laughed. “Yes. But, considering we just saved three universes, I’d say that for today only is fine.”
Nikki smiled. “True. We have to start looking for something to do though; I don’t think we’re going to get a pension for that.”
Sergio thought about what Josh had told him while they had driven him, Kuroko and Aya to the airport the previous night. “Maybe I should really try being a racing driver again, but after disappearing for so long I don’t know if I’ll be able to get a seat anywhere.”
“Well, you won’t know until you try, right? And I’ll look for a job for myself, too.”
Sergio nodded. There was no reason to be afraid for the future — no matter what would happen, at his side there would always be Nikki.
“And that is the full story of how your parents saved the entire multiverse!” Corolla said enthusiastically, sitting in the living room of Sergio and Nikki’s house.
Keiko raised an eyebrow. “…How much of it is accurate and how much did you just make up?”
Sergio and Nikki burst out laughing while Corolla crossed her arms in disappointment. “Hey, why should I lie to my dear niece?”
Sergio shook his head. “Considering what I’ve heard about the stories you tell at Rudy’s, she’s right in being suspicious. But I’d say you were quite accurate this time.”