Blank Sprite – Mission Record 10

I want to thank Doctorlit and Hieronymus Graubart for their beta services.

 

Mission Record 10 – Broken Mirrors

 

Nikki ducked under one of Carol’s hammer swings. She had no idea where she was, how she had gotten there, how Carol was alive, and especially why they were fighting each other.

Carol fired up what looked like a small rocket engine in the back of her sledgehammer’s head and hammered the ground, causing an explosion that lifted Nikki off her feet.

“What do you think about this, Sakutaro?”

Nikki got up, readying herself for another attack. “My name is Sakura!”

Wait, no, my name’s Nikki. Why… why did I say ‘Sakura’?

“Whatever that is.”

Carol shrugged before launching herself at Nikki, who instinctively brought up a Round Shield to parry the attack. Or, rather, that was her idea.

A giant, wing shaped object with a red gem in the center appeared in front of her instead, deflecting the blows with what appeared to be some kind of forcefield.

Is this one of the Clow Cards, The Shield? There was something wrong with the staff she was holding, as well. This isn’t Vanguard, it’s… Sakura’s Star Staff? What’s going on here?

Carol bounced back from her last attack, but regained her balance quickly and ran towards Nikki again, sparks trailing behind her as she dragged her sledgehammer’s head on the ground.

“Let’s see how long you can resist, Sakutaro!”

Carol raised her weapon and fired up the rocket motor.

“I said my name is

The Shield shattered, the backlash knocking Nikki on the ground for the second time. She drove the Star Staff’s tip into the ground, using it as a crutch to get on her knees, but it was too late. Carol was already over her, with her sledgehammer high ready for a finishing move, and a wide grin on her face.

 

Nikki bolted up in a sitting position, panting heavily. Was that just a dream?

Corolla raised her head and rubbed her eyes.

“What’s the matter, Nikki?”

Nikki shook her head and smiled to reassure her.

“It’s nothing. I just had a bad dream.”

Corolla sat up and looked around, and Nikki did the same. Both Sergio and Homura weren’t in the room, but their empty sleeping bags and Sergio’s backpack were still on the floor next to them. They must’ve decided to patrol this place. She looked at her wristwatch. It’s four in the morning. Sergio always sleeps so little… is it the same for Homura? The nightmares, everything?

Corolla leaned towards her. “Want to tell me about it?”

“It was a bit of a weird dream, though. There isn’t much about it.” She rubbed the back of her head. “I was fighting Carol — I know, that makes no sense. If she was still alive, we would be on the same side, right?”

Much to her surprise, a thoughtful look appeared on Corolla’s face.

“Let me guess, you were Sakura in that dream?”

“Eh? How do you know?”

“Simple, it’s because… Wait, I think I can show it.” Corolla got up and looked into Nikki’s messenger bag. She came back with Carol’s weapon in hand. “If this is anything like a Device, it should have a video recording feature somewhere. Let’s just hope Carol had left it on…”

The small hammer turned into its full size, its sudden weight increasing enough to knock Corolla on her butt.

“Whoops, wrong function.”

Nikki looked at the sledgehammer more closely. It had a long, chromed handle with a red grip, and a squared, gunmetal gray head. One of the two faces of the hammer, though, was replaced with what looked like a jet engine nozzle.

“Weird, it looks the same as it did in my dream! But I had only seen it in standby form until now. How—”

“Just a bit of patience, if I tell you all right away you’re just going to think I’m pulling a joke on you.”

Corolla opened a holographic window. It was different from her usual ones, lacking the light blue frame around it. Inside, a scene as seen by Carol’s eyes played, in which she was attacking a girl who appeared to be Sakura Kinomoto.

“That’s exactly how my dream went! How is it possible?”

“The dream you just had really happened. Look at the timestamp.”

“It’s sometime in July 2007,” Nikki read from the upper left corner.

“Keep that in mind.” Corolla opened another window, this time one of her own. “That is a scene from Chapter 157 of Sergio’s badfic. Like this one I recorded myself, this time from chapter 90.”

This time, the recorded video showed Sakura worried over a younger Sergio’s bandaged arm.

Nikki raised an eyebrow trying to ignore the déjà vu feeling the video was giving her.

“How did you record it?”

“I was clever with the portals on our way here.” Corolla waved her hand dismissively. “Anyways, what’s Sakura doing here?”

Nikki let out a short laugh. The scene was quite familiar.

“She’s fussing over his lack of regard for his own wellbeing as much as I do.”

Corolla emitted what sounded like a TV quiz’s wrong answer buzzer sound.

“Not quite. She’s fussing over him exactly like you do.”

Nikki raised an eyebrow. Exactly like… What is she getting to?

“Now, how old does she look in these windows?”

Nikki rubbed her chin in thought.

“I don’t know. She’s already got the Star Wand, so… Twelve, maybe?”

“Yes.” Corolla nodded. “Well, that’s how old she is in this video. The one with Carol is set some months later, and she’s thirteen there if my calculations are correct. Anyways, one million Midchildan credits question: how old would she be now?”

“Well, she would be around my age? Wait, do you mean…” She widened her eyes as realization struck her and touched Sakura’s image. “This… is actually me?”

“Ding-ding-ding! You just won a million dollars!”

“Wait a minute here. This means…”

“That you’re technically already a couple, and I’ve missed your first kiss. I’m disappointed. Well, technically it was your second, if we consider that time you tripped, fell on Sergio, and your lips—”

Nikki felt her cheeks heat up. “That’s not the point now! What I wanted to say was, why was I fighting Carol? That is, assuming you’re right about this Sakura being me.”

“You still don’t remember? Well, it wasn’t a real fight. Your group had split in half, and one half pretended to defect to the Organization’s side. You were just pretending to fight each other. I’ll resume the recording, but beforehand, since you seem to still have doubts…” She opened yet another holographic window, this time a log of her CAD subprogram. “I took this on ‘Sakura’ after recording the scene with Sergio.”

“The character is currently under PPC employment as…” Nikki read, “Agent Nikki Cherryflower. Ok, I believe you now.”

“By the way, that also marks the first time you’ve berated him for his chronic lack of self-preservation. He’s still not getting it, is he?” Corolla said, resuming Carol’s recording.

 

Faith: That’s enough, Marcus is gone!

 

<Marcus, indeed, was gone and Aér was unconscious on the ground.>

 

“Wait,” Nikki scratched her head, “Didn’t you say that we were only pretending…  no… Aér didn’t know, right? They had to knock her out to prevent her from knowing the ‘defection’ was all a ruse.”

Corolla smiled. “You’re starting to remember! Good!”

“It’s still all foggy, though.”

 

Carol: You’ve been lucky, if it hadn’t gone this way I would’ve had to kill you ❤

 

“She managed to pronounce the heart smiley. I’m impressed.”

Nikki sighed. “I’m really from this?”

Corolla patted her on the shoulder.

 

<in less than a split second Sergio already grabbed Carol by the collar of her dress.>

 

Sergio: Who were you supposed to kill?

 

“Touch Nikki and Sergio will go angry~~~” Corolla said in a sing-song voice, somehow managing to pronounce the tildes.

Nikki blushed. “Corolla!”

“Don’t worry, the best is yet to come.” she said with a very wide grin. A chill went down Nikki’s spine.

 

Kathleen: Put her down.

Faith: Slowly.

Faith and Kathleen: Or you’ll die ❤

 

“Nikki, please tell me you weren’t part of the Spoken Hearts Club.”

“I… don’t think I did?” Nikki said, doing her best to remember. “My memories are still quite fragmented, sorry. Also, you’re not one to speak, after all those tildes.”

Corolla pouted. “You’re not fun.”

 

Sergio (letting her go): Ok… Anyways, we know that they blew up the governments with bombs, but we don’t know from where the trigger signal was sent.

Faith: Lilith has some radio transmitters, but neither I nor my mother know where they are.

Nina: Then when those are discovered, we can go back?

Sergio: Uhm… not necessarily. We have to discover how many, and which ones they’ll use. We can’t destroy them all.

Kathleen: I can find it out, but it will take some time.

Sergio: It doesn’t matter how much time it will take, Kath. We’re already in the wrong future. What matters is to find the way to set things right when we get back to the past.

 

Nikki looked down. She knew already that that makeshift plan, as could be expected, didn’t work. And now they were all dead, except for her and Sergio.

Corolla put a hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry.”

 

Kathleen: If I am not able to get the information in time, we’ll be stuck here with no way back.

Everyone: What?
Kathleen: There’s a time limit for time-space alterations, we have only a month, and we already wasted a week.

 

“No, wait, what?”

“That was one of the limitations of the spell Kath had used to transport us to the future, I think. But…”

“Yeah, don’t expect things to make sense in this fic. I read it all, I know.”

Nikki gave her a glance that clearly meant “then why did you ask?”

 

Sakura: What if I were to use the Time card?

 

Corolla clapped her hands.  “Congratulations, Nikki! You had the only sane idea there!”

“Uhm, thanks?”

 

Alice: I doubt it will work, it’s a scientific mutation, not a magical one.

 

“Wait a minute here. Magic overrides science. Because it’s magic. I want a word with her.”

Nikki took a deep breath. “I don’t think she’ll be able to listen.”

“Sorry.”

 

<Sergio takes a deep breath, and with an excuse he walks away from the group together with Sakura>

 

“This is going to be interesting!”

Despite not remembering what happened afterwards, Nikki could feel her heart pound faster. Kathleen told someone to start recording what Sergio and “Sakura” were doing, and the video followed them.

 

Sakura: What did you want to tell me?…

Sergio: Sakura, I…

 

“Don’t tell me…” Nikki blushed. “This is when…”

 

Sergio (taking her hands): I… I love you, Sakura!

 

“Do we really have to—” Nikki said quickly.

“Yes! Also, I think I can fry an egg on your cheeks.”

 

Sakura: Sergio, I…

Sergio: I already know what you’re going to say… After what Kathleen told us about my past, you don’t trust me anymore, do you?

 

Corolla let out an exasperated howl. “He was already like that back then?”

Nikki could do nothing but keep staring at the video.

 

Sakura (visibly blushing): No!… What I wanted to say is… is… is that I love you, too!

 

Corolla clenched her fists, her nose just a few centimeters from the holographic window. “Kiss already!”

Nikki covered her face with her hands, unable to bear the embarrassment. And, even worse, her past was now being considered just like a movie by Corolla. She mustered up some courage and peeked through her fingers.

 

<Said that, Sakura hugs him and they share a tender kiss.>

 

“YES!”

Nikki felt her cheeks hot as if they were on fire. “So, we actually already…”

“Yes, the most important moment in your lives, and I wasn’t there for it!” Corolla cried, her eyes watery.

 

Kathleen: They did it, finally.

 

Corolla sighed.

“Not quite, Kath. Not quite. But don’t worry.” She clenched up a fist. “I’ll continue this battle for you.”

Despite not being Sakura, and having long ceased to believe to be her, Nikki felt the urge to say a long, desperate “Hoeee!”

 

“Looks like the snowstorm has stopped.” Sergio said after looking out of the window, “I think we should start travelling back to the town.”

Nikki rubbed one eye while nibbling on an energy bar. After talking with Corolla, she hadn’t been able to get much sleep — memories from her life as “Sakura” in Mai Dire Fine kept resurfacing.

“Shouldn’t we wait for the sunrise, at least? I could’ve used a couple hours of sleep more.”

“It’s nine thirty in the morning, Nikki. Rise and shine.”

Nikki looked at her wristwatch. He was right. But then, why is it still dark outside?

“They don’t get much daytime here, do they?” Corolla rolled up her sleeping bag.

“We’re pretty close to the Arctic Circle here.” Sergio checked the magazine of his rifle. “Luckily not enough to not get any light at all, though.”

Nikki took a deep breath in resignation as she picked up her messenger bag. She glanced at Sergio while they were walking towards the exit. Now I understand why I fell in love with him right after we met at the PPC… I was already in love with him from much earlier.

She walked closer to him. All the troubles he had with accepting her feelings were because he believed that, as a Stu, he had forced Sakura to fall in love with him.  But that wasn’t Sakura… that was me. He needs to know it. “Er, Sergio?”

“What is it?”

“I—” An explosion shook the building, drowning her words.

“We’ll talk about that later.” Sergio readied his rifle. “I think we have company.”

Nikki nodded, summoning her Device and Barrier Jacket. Next to her Corolla and Homura did their own transformations as well.

“Why the explosion?” Corolla set up some Round Shields around her allies. “If Vera’s Defectives are trying to get in, they could just enter through a window, or maybe that unlocked door we used.”

“Unless they’re trying to collapse the entire building on us.” Sergio gestured the girls to follow him. “Let’s get out of here.”

There was a second explosion, and the ceiling started cracking, some pieces of concrete falling down on them. Nikki dove out of the way just in time to avoid being buried by the rubble.

“You really had to say that, didn’t you?” she said between coughs. “Sergio…?”

Nikki looked around. The corridor was cut off by the rubble and there was only Corolla in sight, sitting on the ground slapping her own head lightly. “Uhm, gimme a minute, my HUD went all fuzzy.”

Vanguard’s gem lighted up and the words “Incoming call” appeared in it. Nikki accepted it right away.

“Nikki? Are you alright?” Sergio said.

“Yes, I’m fine. Where are you?”

“On the other side of this pile of rubble, I guess. I’m with Homura, we’re both OK. Corolla is with you?”

Nikki glanced at Corolla, who had just given herself a slap strong enough to knock herself sideways on the floor.

“Yes, she’s got some HUD problems but she seems fine… mostly. We’ll try to catch up.”

“Let’s not take any risk, get out of here through the first window big enough, and… Uh. Problem on my side. Stuff not staying dead.”

Nikki helped Corolla getting up.

“What do you mean by…?”

A girl appeared at the other end of the corridor, wearing a black sailor fuku school uniform with an unusually long skirt reaching her knees. She was holding a submachine gun in her right hand, and was playing with a yo-yo with the left.

What caught Nikki’s attention, though, was the other girl’s face. An exact copy of her own.

“Don’t tell me Vera played the “evil clones” card?” said Corolla, summoning a Round Shield between them.

“No… or rather, not her,” Nikki said.

Her mirror image had Sakura’s shorter haircut, but what gave Nikki no doubt about her identity was the small red yo-yo she was playing with.

“Sergio, I think I have your same problem here.”

She closed the call.

“… I think I get it,” Corolla said, “She’s…”

“Kurara Tsukimoto. One of the clones Marcus made to try to kill us.” Nikki aimed Vanguard forward, readying herself for combat. “I presume the one Sergio was talking about is Sergej?”

“You’re not as dimwitted as our original, are you? And it seems I was right. The Sakura I’ve fought against is you, not that kid Vera kidnapped.” Kurara licked her lips. “This will make killing you much sweeter, after what you did to me.”

 

Nikki dodged another throw of Kurara’s bladed yo-yo and pulled out one of her Sakura cards, The Shot. It materialized into a vaguely star-shaped body of magenta light and started shooting energy projectiles at Kurara relentlessly.

The clone did her best to avoid the attack, but to no avail. The Shot hit her with enough force to send her flying towards an electrical substation and into a transformer. There was an explosion and sparks started flying everywhere.

Don’t… you dare… attack… my friend… ever again!” Nikki shouted after her, expecting her clone to get up. However, she was nowhere to be seen, and the electrical equipment started to fall like domino tiles, a fire quickly engulfing the entire substation.

Nikki fell on her knees, realizing what she had just caused.

Sakura… are you alright???” Sergio called out to her.

I… I… I’ve killed her?” Nikki kept looking into the inferno, “I’ve… I’ve killed… I’ve killed a person?

Sergio grabbed her by the shoulders. “… if you hadn’t done that you would be the one in the middle of those flames now! She wouldn’t be having these afterthoughts!

 

“Can’t we just talk it over?” Nikki said, despite preparing herself to cast Shoot Barret, “if you weren’t continuously trying to kill me or my friends, I would’ve never had anything against you.”

“I’m sorry, but I’m getting paid depending on how many of you I kill.” Kurara smirked. “And, besides, do you know how frustrating it is to be a clone? To know that your entire body is just a copy of someone else made in a test tube?”

Nikki raised an eyebrow. “As a matter of fact… I do? I wasn’t born in a test tube, but I was copied from the Sakura Vera has kidnapped. And I’m not being homicidal about it.”

Kurara seemed to be contemplating her answer for a few seconds. “Great… so I’m a clone of a clone?”

Corolla floated towards her a bit, but still behind the safety of her own Round Shield.

“It doesn’t mean anything, you know? You can still live your own life and make your own choices, like Nikki’s doing. It’s not too late.”

“Oh, yes, I’ve already made my own choice. And that’s killing my original here, and then I will kill her original once I get back to Venice. When there will be only me, then I’ll be free from their shadow!”

Kurara opened fire with her submachine gun, but Corolla brought up more shields to protect herself and Nikki, continuously replacing the ones shattered by the bullets. “It doesn’t work that way!”

Nikki returned fire with some Shoot Barrets. “It’s no use. She still understands nothing but violence.”

“We have no choice then. There’s little space in here, I think it’s better for us to Unison.”

Nikki grabbed her hands and Corolla disappeared in a flash of light. Nikki’s Barrier Jacket changed, becoming light blue with white trim and, even if she couldn’t see it, she knew that her eyes and hair had changed color as well.

“Unison successful, we have 81% synchronization and our mana reserves are in the green.” Corolla said, now in an incorporeal form inside Nikki.

“Keep talking, it will make things easier for me!” Kurara shouted. Only then Nikki noticed that her clone had taken advantage of the small delay of the Unison to close in. Kurara jumped over Corolla’s Round Shields and threw her yo-yo at Nikki, missing her by only a few centimeters.

Nikki tried to aim Vanguard at her, but could do only half of the movement before something started pulling it. The string of Kurara’s yo-yo was wound tightly around the handle, and Kurara yanked on it, pulling the Device out of Nikki’s grasp. “Your magic wand has changed, but you still fell for the same trick. You’re disappointing me… you’ll die before I even start having fun.”

Kurara tossed Vanguard behind herself and started attacking with her yo-yo again.

Nikki dodged sideways. “Corolla, any idea?”

“Hmm, I think I have one. But I need you to buy a bit of time.”

Nikki ducked under another throw, the yo-yo’s blades passing dangerously close to her head. “If you can help with that too it would be nice.”

A couple magic circles appeared vertically next to her, a dozen small energy darts emerging from each.  They shot out towards Kurara all at once, some striking her, but she just shrugged them off. “Is this the best you’ve got? They barely tingle!”

Nikki kept doing her best to dodge Kurara’s onslaught. “Corolla, you really need to start working on Moonlight Dagger’s damage! You’ve just made her angry!”

Nikki felt a sharp pain to her side. A glancing hit, but enough to cut into her skin.  She barely had the time to realize she was bleeding before having to duck under another throw. She cut through my Barrier Jacket like it was butter?

Kurara recovered her yo-yo, and opened up its blades before licking Nikki’s blood off one of them. “Weird. Tastes like mine.”

Nikki resisted the urge to facepalm. She opened her mouth for a retort, but a small ball of mana appeared next to her, quickly materializing as Carol’s sledgehammer.

“I’ve managed to give you full access to it!” Corolla said triumphantly, “I’ll deal with your wound, you deal with her!”

Nikki grabbed the weapon with both hands just as the pain started subsiding. AMS-02 Mjolnir system initialization appeared on her vision, quickly followed by Authorized user. Safety lock disengaged.

“Like you getting a new toy would change anything!” Kurara tried to shift into attack position, but she found two light blue energy rings blocking her ankles. “What the…”

“Also, thank you for standing still doing useless creepy stuff,” Corolla continued, “that was exactly what I needed to cast Ring Bind.”

Nikki ran towards Kurara, holding Mjolnir to the side. Once she was a couple steps away from her clone she swept the sledgehammer horizontally, igniting its engine as well.

The swing hit Kurara in the belly with enough strength to send her straight through a wall, and Nikki took advantage of that to pick Vanguard up. “Thank you for lending me your strength, Carol,” she whispered before changing Mjolnir back to its standby form.

Nikki gripped Vanguard’s handle firmly. “Vanguard, Saber Form.” The device started glowing, and its head disappeared while the handle shortened, becoming the hilt of an energy blade. She then walked carefully towards the hole in the wall.

“I’m going to be surprised if she still has more intact bones than broken ones after that.” Corolla said.

“I threw her into a freaking high voltage transformer that other time, and it didn’t kill her. I’m not so sure.”

As it was, bullets started spraying out of the hole. Nikki summoned a Round Shield and entered the other room behind its cover. Indeed, Kurara was still standing, though she was covered in bruises and her clothes were torn and dirty. Nikki closed in, bullets bouncing against her shield, and slashed at her clone. Kurara managed to dodge just barely, but Nikki’s energy blade managed to cut her submachine gun in half.

“I might’ve underestimated you, but that doesn’t matter. You Sakuras are nice girls — you don’t have the guts to actually kill someone.”

Kurara tossed the remains of her guns away, then threw her yo-yo at Nikki, only for it to be deflected by her shield. Nikki retaliated with another slash, and Kurara took advantage of the opening to attack, managing to ensnare her weapon.

“You may be right.” Nikki said as both girls started to pull, locked in a deadly tug of war. “Sakura wouldn’t harm anyone.”

Vanguard’s energy blade burned through the string of Kurara’s yo-yo. Kurara stumbled back, trying to regain footing, but Nikki was quicker, charging her with a stab. The momentum was enough for both girls to end up in the wall.

“But my name’s Nikki.”

Kurara’s eyes were wide open and blood trickled from the side of her mouth as she tried to speak, but only choking sounds came out.

Nikki dispelled her blade and stepped back. Kurara’s body slid down the wall, completely limp.

Corolla de-Unisoned. “I think this time you’ve gotten her for real.”

Nikki breathed deeply, still looking at her clone. There was a hole in the upper part of Kurara’s chest; Vanguard’s blade had stabbed right through. Despite knowing well that she had had no choice, looking at her dead mirror image made Nikki start to feel sick to the stomach. “Is she dead? I don’t want to have to deal with her again.”

Corolla opened a holographic window. “Both heart and brain activity are flat, so I think she is.” She scrolled down her scan. “Oh, and she didn’t die a virgin, if that’s of any interest to you.”

Nikki opened her mouth for a retort, but her stomach decided it was the right time to turn on her. She stumbled to a nearby wall for support, reaching it just in time before throwing up.

Corolla floated next to her, offering a tissue. “Here.”

“Sorry,” Nikki said as soon as her stomach settled. She was glad to have eaten only an energy bar earlier. She wiped her mouth and took a deep breath. “It’s just… she looks exactly like me.”

Corolla grabbed her arm. “Hey, I understand. But she’s not you.”

Nikki gulped, her throat still burning. “Yes, but… In the end, we’re both copies, aren’t we?”

Corolla floated in front of her. “I know where this is going and it’s not like you. So stop doubting yourself like that.” She put a hand under Nikki’s chin, forcing her friend to look in her eyes. “What makes you a person? Your choices.” Corolla took Vanguard from her hand. “Why do you think your Device’s standby mode is shaped like a star?”

Nikki pondered the question for a few seconds. “I have no idea. Maybe Anne got inspired by the Star Wand?”

“Nope.” Corolla shook her head vigorously. “I chose it. And yes, there is a correlation to the Star Wand: the meaning of the star.” Corolla floated back a bit. “You remember it, right? Sakura’s magic ‘doesn’t come from the sun or the moon, but from her own star’. And yours too. You didn’t let your being a clone of Sakura weigh on you, you looked for your own path, and you started shining with your own light.” Corolla pointed at Kurara with her chin. “Her? Not so much, considering how obsessed she was with taking your place, and Sakura’s… just like the moon doesn’t have its own light, but needs the sun’s. She kept repeating that to herself, and was engulfed by the darkness.”

Nikki smiled. Corolla was right; between her and Kurara there was an abyss. “Thank you.”

Corolla shook her head. “It’s nothing. Now, let’s go see if Homura and your boyfriend need any help with his clone.”

Nikki felt her cheeks heat up. “Corolla!”

“Hey, that scene pretty much meant that you two were a couple, and I don’t recall you breaking up.”

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Blank Sprite – Mission Record 09

I want to thank Aelit, Doctorlit and Hieronymus Graubart for their beta services.

 

Mission Record 09 – Buried Regrets

 

Sergio looked behind himself again before proceeding to the next flight of stairs, but nobody was following him. Unsurprising, considering he was supposed to be dead.

Second floor. He walked towards one of the doors, clutching his cloak’s flaps tightly.

Sergio stopped mid-motion before taking a deep breath and ringing the doorbell. “Aunt, it’s me.”

The door was opened by a woman wearing a blue dress. Virgilia, Faith’s mother. “Come in,” she said. She looked weary; there were some wrinkles in her forehead that Sergio was sure weren’t there just a month before. He gave one last look behind himself before walking in.

“I’m glad to see you,” Virgilia said with a forced smile. “Would you like a cup of tea? Or maybe you prefer some coffee?” she added, showing him to the living room.

Sergio followed her almost mechanically. “Just a glass of water, thanks.”

Sergio looked down as Virgilia went into the kitchen. Upon seeing him, her expression had beamed for a second. Was she getting up her hopes?

“Here,” Virgilia said as she came back with the water. “Thank God you’re fine, my brother had made an announcement, the other day, and I was getting worried.”

Sergio started drinking the water slowly. Here it comes, he thought.

“But, since you’re here, it was all propaganda,” she said, looking straight into his eyes. “Right?”

Sergio averted his eyes. “Not quite.” He took a deep breath, “The others—” He gulped, trying to find the courage to tell her the truth. “They’re all—” His voice died out, tears already rolling down his cheeks. He shook his head.

Virgilia covered her mouth with a hand. “What happened?”
“Remember what we said about that time machine? Turns out there never was one!” Sergio said, before letting himself fall on a couch. “Those rumors, they planted them deliberately. They were waiting for us.”

 

Sergio looked out of the helicopter’s window, looking for the other one flying in formation with them. He brought his hand near his earpiece. “We’ll be in sight of the lab soon. Everyone remembers the plan, right?”
“Why are we splitting up? We’re stronger all together,” Carol said, rocking back and forth on her seat for as much as the seatbelts allowed her.

“We can’t afford to put all our eggs in the same basket, sis,” Alice said in the earpieces. “That’s why you, Sergio and Nina will go in from the north while Sakura, Li and I will enter from the south.”
“Exactly. If one team gets cornered, the other has a chance to reach our goal,” Sergio agreed, pushing up his glasses. “All we need is to be able to send even a single one of us back to January with all we’ve gathered on the Organization’s coup.“ He took a deep breath. “Even if we take more casualties, as long as someone gets to that time machine it will be a success.”

“We have a problem!” the helicopter’s pilot said. “Bandit twelve o’clock, it’s an attack helicopter!”

Sergio looked forward just as an alarm went off. “An Apache? Damn!”

Both of the Foundation’s helicopters dodged sideways.

“Wind, blow away those missiles! Release!” Sakura screamed over the radio, followed by the card appearing outside and ensnaring the two missiles in her tendrils, causing them to crash on the ground.

Sergio opened the side door. “That thing’s well armored, but if we can get the rotor hubs we might be able to take it down!” He fired a couple bursts from his M16, but the Apache was too far and none of the bullets hit. The Apache retaliated with its cannon.

“You’ve made him angry!” Nina said, covering her head as the helicopter’s windows shattered under the hail of 30 millimeter rounds.

“Raitei Shōrai!” Li said over the radio. Sergio looked out and, indeed, yellow lightning was hitting the Apache. However, in order to allow Li to cast his spell, the other helicopter was flying at only a few meters from the Apache.

“Crown Two, you’re too close, you’re going to crash into each other if you—” the pilot of Sergio’s helicopter said, but it was too late. The Apache’s pilot, shocked by the spell, lost control causing his helicopter’s blades to cut into Crown Two’s tail, shredding it.

Sergio could only watch in horror as both helicopters crashed into the ground and exploded.

 

“They sent an attack helicopter after you?”

Sergio nodded slowly. “It wasn’t the first time, either. How do you think we’ve lost KITT? Anyways, our helicopter was damaged, and the engine failed just before reaching our destination…”

 

Sergio unbuckled his seat belts. “You alright?”

Nina nodded, while Carol got up and shook the pilot’s shoulder. “I’m fine, but our driver’s gone for a Burton.”

Sergio gritted his teeth. Another victim. “We’ve got to get moving. We’re not far from the lab, I’m pretty sure they’ve heard the crash.”

Carol jumped down from the helicopter. “You’re right; if we stay here we’re dead meat.”

 

“We didn’t meet anyone on the way to the lab, and we got inside easily. But that’s what they wanted.”

 

Sergio, Nina and Carol took cover behind a desk just as bullets zipped past and a long flame swept over their heads.

“I can’t believe it, they’re using flamethrowers!” Carol said, holding her shotgun over her head and firing back.

“They want to make sure none of us gets to that time machine!” Sergio said, opening fire as well. One of the flamethrower-wielding soldiers went down, his chest riddled with bullets.

Nina fired a couple laser beams from her Taldom. “Wait, that guy is on fire, why—”

“Down!” Sergio pulled the two girls back under cover. There was a loud explosion, and the entire corridor in front of them was filled with flames.

“I don’t want a flamethrower as a birthday gift anymore, I really don’t,” Carol said, earning a stare from Nina.

“That should keep them busy for a while. Let’s move to the next room,” Sergio said, getting up.

 

“But no matter how many lab rooms we searched, there was no trace of what we were looking for.”

 

“This place’s burning down, we don’t have much time left,” Nina said between coughs as smoke started filling the corridors.

“There’s only one lab left, it must be there.” Sergio fired some rounds at their pursuers. “Damn, they just don’t give up!”

Carol fired off the last rounds of her shotgun before tossing the empty weapon away. “You two get in there; I’ll hold them here for as long as I can.” She summoned her rocket sledgehammer, and put herself between her allies and pursuers. “Go!”

Sergio nodded, and ran towards the door with Nina. When they opened it, they were greeted by a hail of bullets. Sergio took cover just in time, but Nina wasn’t fast enough. She fell backwards, bullets ripping through her flesh.

Sergio emptied the magazine of his M16 into the room, before reloading and storming inside, screaming at the top of his lungs.

Time seemed to slow down as bullets zipped around him. Sergio started shooting, taking down the four soldiers inside the room one after another.

He breathed heavily as he realized that the threat was gone. Only then he had a better look at the room: a small laboratory with white tables and very simple instruments.

“Damn, it isn’t here, either!” he muttered in frustration before bringing a hand near his headset. “Carol, we have a problem! The time machine isn’t here, and Nina bit it too.”

There was no answer.

“Carol? Come in, Carol!”

Again, only static could be heard over the radio. Sergio gritted his teeth, before noticing that one of the soldiers moved slightly, still alive despite the wounds. Sergio grabbed him, and put his laser pistol right under the man’s chin. “Where’s the time machine?”

The man laughed weakly. “You… really believed it all?” Blood started dripping from the side of his mouth. “Time machines don’t exist. Only some stupid kids would believe that… you all fell for it.”

Sergio hit him on the head with the pistol’s grip before letting him go. “Fuck!” He threw the pistol on the ground. They had been played, and now everyone was dead.

The building shook; the fire was starting to take its toll on the structure.

Sergio looked down at his pistol, and dropped his laser rifle as well. Those were his favorite weapons — if the Organization was to search for proof of their deaths, they would believe that he had died in the fire too.

 

Sergio curled up in a ball, hugging his knees. “They trusted me, and I led them all to their own deaths. And for what? For nothing.”

Virgilia took a step back. “My God… Marco must’ve lost his head completely. All of that… to kill some kids.”

“We were the biggest threat to the Organization’s rule. He wanted to make sure we were all crushed, I guess.”

Virgilia sat on the couch and pulled him into a hug.  “Don’t worry, we’ll stop him,” she said, before wiping some tears from her nephew’s face. “You can stay here if you want, I don’t think they’ll come to look for you now that they think you’re dead. Then, when things calm down a bit, I’ll help you find some way of fighting back again. I know this former U.S. Air Force colonel who—”

“I’m going to act tomorrow.” Sergio said, getting up. “That’s my best… no, my only chance.”

Virgilia glanced at a pamphlet lying on the coffee table. “Don’t tell me… You’re going to the Organization’s victory celebration at Palazzo Ca’ D’Oro? That’s suicide!”

“I know, but Marcus and all the other leaders will be there, and possibly a lot of high ranking officers as well. I can kill the head of the serpent if I blow the entire place up.”

Virgilia sighed. “I can see your point. But, please, promise me you’re going to come back. I’ve lost Faith and Kathleen, I—” She hiccuped. “I can’t lose my nephew too.”

Sergio gritted his teeth. “I… can’t.  I’m honored you see me as a relative, but the truth is that I think I should die in there, too.”

Virgilia got up and grabbed his arm. “You can’t be serious! What makes you think something like that?”
“You know how I was made, right? I think that also has to do with why I’m still alive,” Sergio said, before looking down. “Do you know how many of the Organization’s men I’ve killed while on my way here, while gathering all I need for tomorrow’s assault?”

“I don’t know.” Virgilia said slowly. “But Kathleen always said you never wanted any bloodshed, so—”
“Probably around one hundred.”

Virgilia’s eyes widened. “What?”

Sergio looked her straight in the eyes. “I was outnumbered, outgunned, and yet I could kill them all every time! I’m not a human being, I’m a fucking weapon!”

“No,” Virgilia said, pulling him into a hug again, “No. I admit I know you only a little, but—” Virgilia grabbed him by the shoulders, keeping him at arm’s length. “I know your heart is in the right place. Can weapons be altruist? Can weapons love? No, but you do!”

Sergio winced, and looked away. “Someone else told me that, some time ago. A girl I loved with all of my heart, and who was starting to convince me that I wasn’t such a bad thing after all. Now she’s a dead corpse somewhere in Alaska. I—” Tears started running down again. “I can’t live without her.”

Virgilia shook her head. “It doesn’t mean you need to immolate yourself to avenge her! Would she want you to die? I don’t think so.” She stared straight in his eyes. “Live. For her, and for all the others. I’m sure that’s what they want.”

Sergio stepped back, slipping out of her grasp. “I’ll… think about it.”

 

Sergio woke up, and rubbed his temples, looking at the ceiling. I should’ve expected that I would have that dream. He pulled out his cell phone, scrolling back into the missed calls list. There was one he had never deleted in years.

Virgilia, 23rd September 2007, 8.43 AM. She was likely calling me to know if I had made up my mind. But I had done so in the way she didn’t like.

He put the phone away, and looked up at the ceiling.

 

Sergio walked towards the room in which the celebration was being held. He was clad in a stolen Organization soldier uniform, his head covered by a balaclava. The headgear was common enough between their ranks that no one paid any attention to him.

He gripped the detonator in his pocket tightly. All the C4 charges were in place; all it would take was for him to press a button to blow the entire place to smithereens. He could do that right away, but there was something he had to do first.

Sergio entered the room, which turned out to be a rather big auditorium. He looked at the stage, and ignored the other Organization leaders as he noticed that Marcus was the one currently at the podium.

Sergio walked down the main aisle, his eyes fixed on his creator and nemesis. The man who had taken away the lives of his friends and his girlfriend, and was keeping the whole world hostage.

“You in the middle! What are you doing there? Get back to your patrol.” Marcus called out. Sergio pulled off his balaclava.

“…You!” Marcus’s eyes widened in surprise. “I thought I had killed you! But it doesn’t matter. We’ve won, and there’s nothing a stupid detective like you can do about it.”

Sergio heard the distinctive sounds of safeties being taken off and rounds being chambered around him.

“Wait. Don’t shoot him right away. He can be our special guest. A representative of our enemies attending our victory celebration… I like that. You can always join your friends afterwards. What do you think about it, son?”

“I’m sorry, but I have to decline.” Sergio pulled out the detonator from his pocket, and held it high so everyone could see it. “You, me, the Organization, this war… this madness ends here!”

Sergio saw Marcus’s expression turn into horror as he pushed the button. “This is for Sakura.”

 

“And yet, someone must’ve thought that for me it would’ve been the easy way out.” Sergio muttered under his breath.  He sighed, and got up. Maybe a little walk can help me calm down.  He picked up his rifle, and walked out of the room, lost in his thoughts.

 

Maybe I should’ve called Virgilia, and let her know that I had made it out alive. Sergio looked out of the window. Scratch the maybe, that was the right thing to do. Does she think I’m dead as well? Did she mourn me? Why… Why didn’t I contact her afterwards?

He sighed. Who am I kidding? I know very well why. Since Kathleen’s death, I just can’t face—”

He heard footsteps behind him and turned around. “Looks like I’m not the only one who can’t sleep, huh?”

Homura nodded and walked next to him.

“Nightmares?”

She tilted her head towards him “Yes. How do you…?”

Sergio looked outside again. “Because that’s what is waiting in the night for those who have seen hell.”

“How do you deal with… everything?”

Sergio took a deep breath. “I guess I really don’t.”

He sat down, back against the wall. It was cold enough that he could feel it through his jacket. The snowstorm wasn’t ceasing, the wind strong enough he could hear it clearly even from inside. “I ran away.” He continued after a few seconds, “I’m still running away. The PPC is the perfect place for doing that. It’s basically in between all the universes: nowhere, and everywhere at the same moment. And yet, I’m still playing hero. I guess I don’t really know when to quit, do I?” He smirked.

Homura gave him a thoughtful look. “Why do you still fight?”

Sergio lowered his chin. “I don’t know. Maybe I’m just waiting for some Sue to get lucky and put an end to my misery. But part of me also wants to atone, and… well, fighting is one of the few things I can do well. So I guess I still have some use as a protector for those who can’t defend themselves.” He shrugged. “If I was made as a weapon, I can at least make sure I’m aimed in the right direction.”

Homura sat next to him. “It’s the same for me.  After Madoka ascended, I didn’t know what to do at first. But then I realized that, while the world had improved with her sacrifice, it still needed someone to protect it. And I happened to be able to do that.”

“And not make her sacrifice go to waste.” He chuckled. “Looks like we aren’t that different. But, still, what are we?”

“We’re both heroes, or fools.”

Sergio shrugged. “I don’t know about you, but I’m probably the latter.” He glanced at his rifle. “Or maybe I am just a weapon pretending to be a human.”

“Well, technically we’re fictional characters, right? Or, at least, that’s what the fairy said.”

Sergio let out a short laugh. “You’re lucky she didn’t hear you. Mistaking her for one is the fastest way to get her angry.” He got up. “Let’s get back. If they wake up with us missing, they’ll worry.”

Blank Sprite – Mission Record 08

As usual, I want to thank this chapter’s beta readers, Aelit and Hieronymus Graubart, for their great help.

 

Mission Record 08 – Lingering Ghosts

 

“So…” Corolla started as the group walked back towards Response Center 1587, “What’s on your mind, Sergio? You went so far as to resign… I hope you have a good reason for it.”

Corolla felt her mouth become dry. As far as she knew, Sergio didn’t have any place to go outside the PPC.

Sergio kept walking without turning towards her. “I admit it, I’ve acted on instinct. Guess here goes my job stability. But I’ll manage.”

Nikki grabbed his arm. “Wherever you go after this, I’m coming with you. I’ll resign, too.”

“I knew you were going to say something like that.” Sergio shook his head. “I have to admit I was actually counting on it.”

Nikki’s eyes widened. “Eh…? Wait, don’t tell me. You did this deliberately to–”

“Ensure that there is a way for what we’ve seen during the Blackout — me and you no longer working here with Corolla — to happen without us dying.”

“I get it.” Nikki nodded. “When the Sunflower wanted to send only the two of us after Vera, you were afraid that we….”

Sergio nodded. “You’re reading me like an open book. Yes, that was the goal. The more allies we have, the less likely it is for us to not make it. I don’t know if destiny can be changed, but I think going through the path of least resistance while attempting to do so is the best way.” He turned around towards Corolla and Homura. “Sorry for dragging you along in my machinations.”

“It’s fine. We’re doing this to save Madoka, after all,” Homura said. A faint smile appeared on her face. “Besides, I think I understand how you feel.”

Corolla clenched a fist. “And I was getting bored staying all day at the console!” She floated in front of her partners, and put her fists against her sides in an effort to look intimidating. “If anyone wants to hurt my friends, they’ll have to pass over my dead body first!”

Sergio laughed and ruffled the small girl’s hair. “You’re too tiny and adorable to make that kind of statement work, you know?”

Corolla did her best to try to comb her hair back into place. “I’m still going to do my best. I’m not accepting a Bad End for you two, I’m aiming for the Perfect Golden Ending!” Especially if Nikki and the Sakura you knew are indeed the same person.

Corolla continued thinking about the matter as they resumed walking, ignoring Sergio’s embarrassed remarks. But, if it really is like that… Why doesn’t Nikki remember anything?

 

Corolla opened the door of RC 1587. “Welcome to our humble home!”

Homura just had a look around without showing any reaction, but Corolla imagined that the RC was looking weird to her; the furniture was horribly mismatched, after all. Corolla retrieved her backpack from a Victorian wardrobe standing right next to a metal office cabinet. Homura, though, seemed to be more interested in the collection of firearms on a metal shelf, her stare fixed on the Barrett M82A1 anti-materiel rifle.

“Feel free to borrow anything you like.” Sergio set his rifle on the Art Deco desk next to the shelf and turned towards the console’s screen. “Wait, is that—”

A chill went down Corolla’s spine. I forgot to close the internet browser!

“—the fanfiction I’m from?” Sergio said, after reading some of the text.

Corolla smiled, but her hands were already starting to sweat. “Curiosity killed the cat?”

Sergio sighed, apparently not upset at all. In fact, he had more of a weary look on his face. “Well, now you know how much of a Stu I was. I guess it’s only fair, considering I’ve lied to you for three years.”

Corolla floated over to him and hugged his arm. “Hey. I’ve already told you that I don’t care about your past as a Stu. You’ve been my friend since I met you, and you still are now. That’s all that matters. So don’t make that sad face and let’s go kick some ass!”

Sergio laughed. “That last part felt so wrong out of your mouth.” He shook his head. “Alright, back to the matter at hand. I have a theory about where Vera has her main base of activities, and where she’s keeping Sakura and Madoka.”

Sergio opened a map of Alaska on the console, and put the cursor over the name of a small town in the northern part of the American state. “There’s a complex about fifty kilometers north of here, I think that’s the place. I don’t have the exact coordinates for it, though.”

Nikki raised an eyebrow. “Why are you so sure about it?”
“Vera’s not just obsessed with killing me, I’m pretty sure she wants me to suffer beforehand. And what place would she like more than where I’ve lost the last of my friends from that fanfiction? What place would she like more than where she had Ami killed? Both of these things happened in or near that complex, and she wants me to remember all of that.”  Sergio turned towards the girls. “She’s there, waiting for us. I’d bet anything on it.”

Corolla scratched her head. “Wouldn’t we be just running into another ambush, then?”

Sergio smiled. “Oh, well, it’s no longer an ambush…”

“If we know it’s there.” Nikki completed for him.

Sergio nodded. “Everything Vera’s done until now fits perfectly with how I remember her. She’s not changed at all, meaning she’s going to be very predictable. Which is what I’m not going to be. Remember what Vera said at the auction about me?”

Nikki looked up. “Uhm… Something about you always playing by the rules?”

Sergio smirked. “That’s exactly why I’m not going to let myself be bound by the PPC ones now. So, who’s with me?”

Corolla immediately raised a hand. “What kind of question is that? Everyone!” She opened up one of her holographic windows and started tapping the town’s coordinates in her Remote Activator subprogram.

“I could speak for myself,” Homura said.

Nikki shrugged. “That’s Corolla for you.”

Corolla failed to hide a grin as she tapped the last holographic key, making a blue portal appear in front of them. “Portal’s online. We’re ready to sail, captain!” she said with a salute.

Sergio shook his head as Nikki and Homura walked through. “You know what? I had indeed the rank of Captain, at Strike Dove.” He walked towards the portal as well. “Though those were based on Army ranks, not Navy ranks, so–”

As soon as Sergio was through, Corolla tapped in another complicated series of instructions in the portal subprogram. Sorry, guys, but I have to check one thing first. Though, if I did everything right, you won’t even notice it.

 

Corolla emerged from the portal into what looked like a bedroom with what she assumed to be antique furniture despite looking rather nondescript. Sitting on the bed was Sergio, who was checking a bandage on his left arm. His face looked somewhat softer, lacking the weariness she was so used to see. He couldn’t have been any older than fourteen or fifteen.

It worked. This is the scene from Mai Dire Fine I wanted to see. Corolla dove inside a nearby gym bag, nesting between some clothes and some kind of weird-looking rifle. The SEP field was going to be useless for hiding her, and the last thing she wanted was having to make explanations to Sergio’s past self.

Sakura peeked in from the door. “Am I bothering you…?”

Sergio quickly unrolled his sleeve to hide the bandage. Corolla shook her head. On some things you never changed, did you?

“No, of course not. Come in.”

Sakura walked in, staring at the sleeve. “Is something wrong with your arm?”

Sergio shook his head. “No, it’s nothing…”

Sakura didn’t seem to believe him and rolled up the sleeve again, uncovering the bandage. “But… you’re hurt!”

“It’s only a scratch, trust me.”

“Yes, but… Every time I am in danger, you keep risking your own life to get me out of trouble… and this isn’t the first time you get hurt for it!

Sergio just stared at her, taken aback by her outburst. “Sakura…”

“Why you keep doing that? Why you always put yourself in danger to avoid other people getting hurt?”

That’s definitely not right for Sakura… but would be in character for someone else I know.

“I don’t know. I feel like it’s the right thing to do. And, trust me, even considering how much this wound and all the bruises I got today hurt, it would’ve hurt me more to know, or even just have the doubt, that they had harmed you because I didn’t act.”

Corolla rolled her eyes. You really liked playing knight in shining armor, didn’t you?

Sakura looked down only to notice something else on his arm. “What’s that?”

Sergio tried to get out of her grasp, but she was quicker and rolled the sleeve some more. “This is…”

“Yes, it’s a scar. It’s from a couple years ago. Anyways, if you don’t mind, I’d got take a shower now”

Sakura nodded, and left the room. Corolla followed her as soon as Sergio looked the other way. That scar was only barely visible until she rolled up the sleeve some more. She opened up the holographic window of her CAD subprogram and started scanning Sakura.

[Sakura Kinomoto. Uncanon. Character replacement of Sakura Kinomoto, Card Captor Sakura canon.]

Corolla scrolled down the report. Indeed. The canonical Sakura is a bit slow on things; she would’ve never noticed… well, pretty much everything she noticed now. She looked at the rest of the report and smiled. But that’s just how our Nikki is.

[WARNING: The character is currently under PPC employment as Agent Nikki Cherryflower (Department of Floaters, Special Operations Division). Any interaction may cause a time paradox.]

 

“– the type of captain you were meaning would actually outrank me.” Sergio zipped up his jacket.

Corolla smiled. Chaining her portals had worked, to the others she hadn’t been gone for even half a second. “It’s cold here!” she said, hugging herself. The town they were in was actually pretty much covered in snow — while the road and sidewalks were clean, there was at least half a meter of snow everywhere else.

“We’re in Alaska in the middle of winter. Of course it is.” Sergio rubbed his chin in thought. “Well, I have to get a vehicle, so maybe you girls should go look for warmer clothes in the meanwhile?”

Nikki raised an eyebrow. “Don’t we already have the Volvo?”

“Yeah, and it would’ve been more than adequate if the complex was anywhere near a clean, paved road. But, as much as the Swedish know to make cars that can handle this kind of weather, going over half a meter of fresh snow isn’t something it can do.” Sergio pointed at the hills near the town. “We have several kilometers of at best dirt trails that surely haven’t been plowed. So we’re going to need to rent snowmobiles or something.”

 

“This is much better!” Corolla said, walking out of the mall. “Getting these is worth staying in full-size mode!” She clapped her mitten-clad hands over her fluffy earmuffs and straightened out her new coat.

“You really like cute stuff, don’t you?” Homura smiled softly. Corolla wondered if she was starting to warm up to them.

“Your ski suit looks good, too!”

Homura looked down at her clothes. “Really? I was just looking for something that would be easy to move in.”

Corolla looked at Nikki, who was still wearing her usual longcoat, and frowned. “I can’t believe it… Am I the only one who actually cared about looks?”

“I did buy warmer clothes to go underneath,” Nikki said. “Besides, I… What’s that thing?”

Corolla turned towards where Nikki was looking, and blinked at the vehicle slowly moving on the road. “It’s… Uh… A pickup truck, I think. On steroids. With caterpillar tracks instead of wheels. Do you think–”

Corolla didn’t have the time to say the rest of the phrase before the truck stopped next to them. And, as she was expecting, Sergio jumped down from the driver’s seat.

“What’s with those faces? You’ve never seen an American pickup truck? Yes, they’re this big.”

“Aside from the fact that we don’t need a truck this big,” Corolla said, “and the fact that I’m being the voice of reason here when I realize myself that it shouldn’t be happening…. Well, these things usually run on wheels.”

Sergio crossed his arms. “We would’ve needed two snowmobiles otherwise, and I don’t think any of you knows how to drive one, am I right?”

Corolla felt very disappointed. “But I wanted to try one! I mean, I’ve never driven anything of the sort, but I think I am perfectly able to manage!” She looked at Nikki hoping for approval.

“I don’t think it would’ve been a good idea,” Nikki said.

“C’mon! I know how to fly a fighter jet! A snowmobile can’t be any harder. Homura, at least you agree with me, right?”

Homura just stared at her. “You’re a pilot?”

Corolla raised her eyes to the sky, snorting in frustration. They never let her have any fun.

“By the way,” Nikki said, walking closer to Sergio. “I’ve got these for you.” She handed him a jacket and a pair of gloves.

Corolla stared at them. This is going to be interesting.

“Really? There wasn’t any need, I‘m fine this way,” Sergio said, but accepted them anyways.

“Isn’t it better now?” Nikki said as he wore them. “Your jacket looked quite light, and with this cold fingerless gloves aren’t really a good idea.”

“I guess. Thank you. Well, I think we’re good to go now, or–”

“Not yet.” Nikki pulled out a red scarf from her coat’s pocket, and started putting it around his neck.

Corolla beamed at seeing them so close. C’mon, kiss kiss kiss…!

Nikki stepped away instead, flushed cheeks and hands behind her back. “Early Christmas gift from me.”

Sergio passed a hand over the scarf, blushing slightly. “I… Thank you. I like it”

Corolla walked right next to them. “If that scarf is supposed to be your red string of fate, you two should’ve kissed just now.”

As she was expecting, the result was both of them embarrassedly screaming her name. However, this time Corolla didn’t feel as amused as usual. You two met again after all these years, universes away, and yet don’t recognize each other… I have to fix that.

 

As she looked out of the truck’s window, Corolla couldn’t do anything but feel disappointed. This is so boring, there are only trees to see here and we’re doing thirty kilometers per hour at most. She sighed, remembering what she had read about Sergio’s driving in his fanfiction. If he was still like that, he would’ve been doing at least one hundred, making this truck jump at every bump on the road. She suppressed a laugh. I would’ve enjoyed that.

“Hm? It’s already starting to get dark,” Nikki said, looking up from her map.

“It’s more like night has caught up with us.” Sergio turned on the truck’s headlights.

“Yeah! Since we travelled to Alaska from Germany, we basically rewound our clocks by ten hours.” Corolla explained. “Or, well, more like Alaska is ten hours behind. Time zones are fun!”

“Unless they give you jet lag. That’s not so fun.” Sergio stopped the truck. “And we need to take a detour, I’m afraid.”

The snow-covered trail they were travelling on ended abruptly, cut off by a collapsed wooden bridge.

Corolla peeked from behind Nikki’s seat. “Can’t we just cross the frozen stream and climb back on the other side?”

“Even with tracks, the bank’s too steep here. But the idea is good; we just need to find a better place to put it into practice.” Sergio turned the truck around and proceeded alongside the riverbank.

 

“Yee-ha!” Corolla raised her hands as the truck climbed up the bank, tossing up some snow as it struggled for traction.

Nikki just sighed, holding the roof and door handles tight, while Homura just gave a sideways glance at Corolla, who pouted. “C’mon, it was fun!”

“I’ll try to get back to the trail; we shouldn’t have gotten very far from it,” Sergio said, ignoring her.  “The woods on this side seem to be somewhat thicker, but this thing should still be able to…” His voice died down.

“What’s the matter?” Nikki looked ahead. “Wait, is that…?”

Corolla peeked from behind the seat again. The truck’s headlights were illuminating the wreckage of a small aircraft, probably a helicopter. For how long has it been here? It was covered in snow and frost to the point she wasn’t able to say exactly how much it was damaged, or what color it was. The only thing she was sure was that it wasn’t going to fly ever again.

Sergio shut off the engine and opened the door. “I have to check something.”

“Why? I don’t think there can be survivors inside,” Homura said, but he had already jumped down. The girls quickly followed him.

Wow, it’s deep! Corolla found herself almost waist-deep in snow. Sergio had already reached the downed aircraft and was brushing off some snow from the fuselage. The paint was charred, but a logo resembling a blue crowned “A” was still visible. “Yes… It’s that one.”

Corolla waded through the snow. “What one?”

“One of the two helicopters that were supposed to bring me and my friends to that damned complex… the one I wasn’t on.” He turned towards the rear of the wreckage, where the tail of the helicopter was clearly missing. “We were ambushed by an attack chopper. You can guess how it went.”

Nikki put a hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. It’s not your fault.”

Corolla walked closer to them. “But, if this helicopter is still here, do you think that your friends…”

“Might be still inside? I don’t know.” Sergio took a deep breath. “But… I guess I should check. If they are, the least I can do is to arrange for a proper burial.”

He slowly took a flashlight from his utility belt, and used it to peek inside from what remained of the side door. Nikki took a peek as well, while Corolla remained behind. She didn’t feel like seeing her partner’s friends as dead bodies.

Nikki gasped. Bad sign.

“Corolla, can you record the coordinates? We’ll have to arrange for picking them up once we’re done with this mess,” Sergio said, his voice low. “Two to four bodies.”

“Two to four? You’re not sure?”

“Not in the state they are. I know for sure there’s at least two — there were two original characters, including the pilot, and two canon characters on this thing. The canons would’ve snapped back to their continuum of origin, unless they…” He gulped.

“They were replacements.” Nikki completed for him.

Corolla grabbed Sergio’s arm. “Let’s go. There’s nothing we can do for them now.”

He turned towards her and nodded. There were tears on his face.

 

“So, what’s the plan?” Homura asked as they hid behind some bushes. The complex was a simple concrete building in the middle of a clearing, with a watchtower a couple dozen meters from it.

“First of all, we have to get an idea of what we’re getting into.” Sergio inspected the building through his pocket binoculars. “Stay low; there was a sniper on the watchtower last time.”

“Leave the recon to me!” Corolla smiled while a light blue magic circle appeared under her. “Area Search.” Several small mana orbs of the same color appeared around her, and she shot them towards the building and its immediate surroundings.

Corolla closed her eyes and concentrated on the data she was receiving.  Hmm, there are several signatures… Oh, that’s a nest of mice. Guess I’ve gotten the settings wrong. She opened a holographic window, and started setting up some filters for the results.

“Well, that’s weird.” Corolla raised an eyebrow. “There are no human-sized living beings as far as I can sense, though there’s a very weak magical signature coming from inside the building… I think the basement? Sorry, I can’t get my scan that far inside.”

Sergio shook his head. “It’s fine. We’ll think about it once we’re inside — maybe Vera got the basement shielded or something, and kept the rest of the building empty to avoid attracting attention.”

Homura transformed into her Puella Magi form and pulled out her rifle. Sergio raised an arm in front of her. “Wait. There doesn’t seem to be anyone on the surface, alright, but it might just be another trap.  We should use some kind of cover.”

“I’ll make a smoke curtain like we did at the warehouse.” Nikki set up her Barrier Jacket, and pulled out a grenade from her hammerspace. She readied it near Vanguard’s pommel. Sergio and Homura readied their guns, and Corolla prepared some Round Shields around them.

“On my mark!” Corolla put her right hand fingers in a gun shape. “Three, two, one! Bang!”

Nikki shot the grenade, and the group proceeded forward through the cloud of smoke. They quickly reached the building’s side door.

“Flashbang?” Nikki whispered as they took positions at the door’s sides.

“No, the detonation would give us away if they indeed are holed up in the basement,” Sergio said, pulling the door’s handle. It opened right away, its hinges creaking.

“I don’t think that was supposed to be opened so easily.” Corolla followed him inside.

Sergio turned on the flashlight on his assault rifle. “Same as last time, too.”

He took a deep breath and walked forward, followed by the three girls. Corolla raised an eyebrow as she summoned some small mana orbs for additional lighting — there was no furniture whatsoever, and the walls were bare concrete. “This place looks too empty. Almost fake.”

“Well, it was a laboratory in 2007, but it pretty much burned to the ground back then.” Sergio checked a room. “Clear. I guess Vera just needed for it to look the same from the outside when she had it rebuilt to ambush me and Ami — we were never supposed to get inside.” He took a couple steps forward before stopping and shaking his head.

Nikki walked closer to him. “Sergio, are you alright?”

“Not… quite,” he said, breathing heavily.

Not good, Corolla bit her lip. For him to admit that he’s not feeling good, he really is feeling awful. She looked around. That place was clearly filled with bad memories for him. Can’t blame him. “Another flashback?”

Sergio nodded slowly, before resuming walking. He aimed his rifle forward. “Two of the Organization’s men shooting at us. I kill one, Carol gets the other.”

Corolla followed him. “Who’s Carol?”

“Carol Liddell, Kathleen’s bodyguard… somehow. Take Vita from Lyrical Nanoha, dress her in a pink school uniform, and give her a shotgun. You’ll get something quite close.” He let out a short, dry laugh. “My author, or maybe one of his accomplices, had run out of original character ideas.”

The corridor led them to what looked like an empty lobby. Sergio aimed his rifle at one of the corners. “One man with an assault rifle. Nina — the main character of the Nina, the Child of the Sixth Moon series, by the way — hits him with a laser shot from her… let’s say it was her alchemical scepter.  Bit of a long story.”

Corolla took a note to research that book series later just as Sergio aimed his rifle at a door. “Two more. I empty the clip on them, both fall down.”

He’s still talking in present tense, he’s still flashbacking?

Sergio walked to the center of the room and aimed his rifle at one of the other corridors leading to it. “More enemies, one has a flamethrower. We take cover behind a desk and shoot back.“

Corolla grabbed his arm and shook it. The more he kept reliving the past, the less he would be able to stay focused… the difference between life and death in a firefight. “It’s enough.  You don’t have to relive this just to tell us.”

Sergio blinked. “You’re right. This is not the time for that.”

 

A few minutes later, they reached the stairs leading to the basement. The walls were scorched by the fire, and there was still rubble on the ground.

“Looks like Vera didn’t bother to renovate here,” Corolla said as they ducked to get past a partially collapsed beam.

“Yeah, and that’s not like her. If she really has made this basement into her hideout, she would’ve gone out of her way to make it look cool.” Sergio kept his rifle aimed forward.

They kept walking until they reached the end of the corridor, checking every room along the way. Even after years, there was still a very noticeable burnt smell. Corolla coughed, the sound echoing in the otherwise silent corridor.

Some of the rooms were entirely blocked by rubble, but the ones that didn’t were all the same: charred walls, burnt-down tables, some had also the melted remains of some kind of lab instruments.

Corolla dispelled her shields. “I think you would’ve lost that bet. There isn’t anyone here.”

Sergio sighed, lowering his rifle. “I’m sorry. I dragged you all here for nothing.”

Nikki patted his shoulder. “Don’t worry about it. Do you know of any other place that… Wait.” She turned towards Corolla. “Then, that magical signature you found?”

Corolla looked at her in puzzlement for a couple seconds, before realization struck her. “Oh, right, I forgot!” She opened a holographic window, and used it to scan around. “Hmm, even here the signature is weak… not from a living being for sure.” A blip appeared on her window. “There, in that pile of rubble.”

Nikki kneeled next to where Corolla was pointing and retrieved what looked like a small hammer-shaped pendant from the pile. “This thing, maybe? Weird, it looks familiar.”

“Well, if you’re thinking that it looks like Graf Eisen, that’s because it’s pretty much a copy of it,” Sergio said, taking it from Nikki’s hands. “This is Carol’s other weapon. She had stayed behind to cover us around here, and did so until the very end.”

Corolla looked down. “She must’ve been very brave.”

Sergio walked past her, heading back to the upper floor. “They all were.”

“So what do we do now?” Nikki followed him on the stairs. “I mean, there’s no use staying here anymore, is there?”

Sergio nodded. “The earlier we get out of here, the better.” He walked to a window, and frowned. “Change of plans. I’m afraid we’ll have to spend the night here, as much as I hate that thought.”

“Why?” Corolla looked outside. A snowstorm had started, and combined with the darkness it made seeing anything past a few meters impossible. “Yup, it’s too dangerous to travel now.”

She turned around just in time to see Homura clench her fists, presumably upset for the time they were going to lose that way.  She never says anything, but this whole mess must be terrible for her too.

 

Corolla had just started to drift into sleep when she remembered to tell them her findings. “Oh, guys, I wanted to speak about something.”

“Is it urgent?” Sergio whispered, pointing his chin at Nikki. “She’s already asleep, and I’d prefer to let her rest.”

Corolla bit her lip in disappointment, but nodded. “Well, if you’re alright with it, I’d still want to talk about it with you now.”

Sergio raised an eyebrow. “Sure, go on.”

Corolla thought up a bit on a good way to tell him her findings. After all, it was something so unlikely that Sergio could easily dismiss it as one of her usual pranks. “In your fanfiction, OOCness was rampant. To the point that, as you mentioned earlier, several characters might’ve been Replacements.”

“Yeah, and?”

“So, I was thinking… What if one of those characters was the Sakura you met back then?”

Sergio winced. “I hope she wasn’t.”

“But what if she indeed is?” Corolla pressed on, “I mean, she could’ve ended up travelling around by plothole just like you did, and–”

“Corolla, stop.” Sergio turned away from her. “Sakura was on that helicopter. If she was a replacement, now she… she would be just a pile of charred bones. I don’t want to think about that possibility, and I don’t want to talk about it any further.”

“But–”

“Remember what I’ve said about the promise I had made to her? I had failed to keep it! How do you think I feel thinking about it?” Sergio snapped at her.

Corolla gulped, and looked down. “I… I’m sorry.”

Sergio’s eyes widened; he had surely realized that his outburst was unwarranted. “No, I… I should be the one apologizing. I… just don’t want to talk about it. Sorry.” He turned away again. “Goodnight.”

Corolla sighed, and turned towards Nikki. I understand, but… she’s not dead! She’s right here, right now! She laid down her head, still looking at her. Well, this only added more questions. How did you survive? And where have you been all those years? She sighed, realizing that the only way to have an answer was Nikki recovering her missing memories, and went on to sleep.

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.”

Blank Sprite – Mission Record 06

As usual, I’d like to thank the beta readers who helped me with this chapter – Desdendelle, Hieronymus Graubart, Iximaz, Mattman the Comet and Tesla.

Mission Record 06 – Echoes

“So, we have a bit of time to rest and think about our recent discoveries,” Sergio said as he was driving. “Let’s find a place where we can sleep, maybe a hotel?”

“Someplace that accepts yen, perhaps?” Nikki said as she looked into her wallet.

“Don’t worry, I get paid in euros. I should have enough to pay for at least one night.”

[I’ll try looking for a decent one with reasonable prices. This universe should have something like TripAdvisor, being based on World One, right?]

“I think so?” Sergio said while fiddling with the car’s stereo. “Anyways, anyone have an MP3 player or something? I can’t seem to find a decent channel.”

“Wait, I have an iPod,” Nikki said as she pulled out the device and an aux cable. After connecting the device to the stereo, she started looking for a song to play.

“Hm, not Manten, I heard enough sad stuff for today… ‘Miku miku ni shite ageru’? How did it end up here?… Oh, wait, this one. I think Homura will appreciate it.”

Sergio smiled after hearing the first notes. “Mata Ashita,” he sent through CODEC to Nikki. “Madoka’s character song?”

Nikki nodded. “It sounds like it’s sung as if she’s speaking to Homura, if you think about it.”

As soon as Aoi Yuuki started singing in Madoka’s voice, Homura’s eyes widened in surprise. After a few seconds, the black-haired girl relaxed and closed her eyes, listening carefully until the song was over.

“Thank you,” Homura said as soon as it finished. “I… Hearing her voice after all this time, I missed it. I miss her so much.”

“All this time? How long has it been?” Nikki asked while Homura wiped away some tears.

“About one and a half years.”

“That much? Wait, this means that you’re…”

“I’m turning sixteen in a few months’ time.”

“Well, that’s weird,” Sergio said, rubbing his chin in thought. “Considering how the Word Worlds work, it would’ve made more sense to snatch Madoka right after her ascension… and so we would be with the you from back then now.”

Homura raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”

[Time isn’t synchronized between the continua. Something to do with the fact that we’re all from different fictional worlds that are written and updated randomly, I guess. Anyways, the episode of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, the series you’re from, in which Madoka ascended aired more or less one and a half years ago.] Corolla leaned back on her chair. [Time wasn’t supposed to elapse in your world afterward in relation to the PPC’s standard time. Or something. Multidimensional physics are kinda confusing.]

“… I’m still trying to understand that I’m a fictional character whose life is written by someone else, actually,” Homura admitted.

“Well, as of now, nobody is writing us,” Nikki reassured her.

“You sure, Nikki?” Sergio asked. “Maybe that 14 year-old idiot who wrote me back in 2006 is still at it.”

[Before stuff descends into that, I want to warn our two gunslingers that we’re not allowed to go pay a visit to that guy or to Gen Urobuchi. I don’t even think portals would work for that, too. Anyways, take next one left and go on for 205 meters. There’s a small hotel there that looks just perfect.]

 

“Well, I guess it could be worse,” Sergio said as he opened the door of their hotel room. The walls and the furniture had seen better days, but the room looked clean. There wasn’t a lot of space in the room, however, as most of the floor space was occupied by a desk, a big wardrobe, and two beds: a double and a single one.

“I’m afraid you girls will have to share the big bed, but I think this is a decent enough accommodation. After all, we aren’t here on a vacation — we just need to get some sleep,” Sergio said. He put his backpack on the floor near the single bed and opened it. “If neither of you minds, I’m going to take a shower.”

“Sure, go ahead,” Nikki said as he went past her carrying a towel and pajamas. Once he closed the bathroom door behind him, she shook her head. “That’s so like him,” Nikki said, switching to Japanese.

At Homura’s quizzical stare, Nikki continued. “It’s pretty cold here in Germany, right? He decided to go first so he gets the cold bathroom — and then we get a warmer one if we want to get a shower later.”

Homura smiled softly. “He sure does care a lot about you, doesn’t he?”

“He cares about others much more than about himself… if he cares about himself at all,” Nikki said, looking down.

“I know someone like that,” Homura whispered.

“Hm? You mean Madoka… or yourself?”

Homura blinked before looking down. “I meant her… but it is true that I’d do anything to save her, even if it hurts me. I’ve never looked at that this way.”

“Maybe I have no right to talk… but I think such a belief is wrong,” Nikki said. “Now, don’t get me wrong, I do believe you’re right in giving it all for Madoka… but you, Madoka, Sergio, you all seem to forget that if you get hurt, if you get killed, there’s people who’re going to be worried, get sad.”

Homura looked at her, pondering her words.

“Besides, once you’re gone, you can’t protect your loved ones anymore, can you?” Nikki said. She shook her head. “Sorry, didn’t want to rant at you. It’s just… it gets frustrating when he doesn’t listen.”

“No, it’s fine. I think I got what you mean. Don’t die for those important for you, but live for them…?”

The discussion was interrupted by Sergio coming out of the bathroom, clad in his pajamas and rubbing a towel against his hair. “The bathroom’s pretty warm now, so if either of you wants to have a shower, I’d suggest taking it now.”

Just as Nikki said, Homura thought.

“Hm? There’s no hair dryer?” Nikki asked.

“Well, there is, but I—”

Nikki grabbed him by the arm and dragged him back into the bathroom. “You’re gonna get a cold this way, you know?”

“Nikki, I’m fine, I’ll just —”

Homura blinked a couple of times in surprise, then burst out in a loud, heartful laugh, the first one she had in a long time.

 

Corolla joined in Homura’s laugh. “And people still ask me why I’m trying to hook these two up.”

 

A few hours later, Nikki woke up. She blinked a couple of times, realizing where she actually was. Hm? That was a very weird dream…

Nikki rubbed her temples, trying to remember what it was about. There was… a giant robot spider? And then something about a trip to the future? Stuff like that. And she was fighting alongside Sergio, some various assorted canon characters including Syaoran, Tomoyo and Eriol from Cardcaptor Sakura, and many people she didn’t know, though one of them was… Kathleen? Sergio’s sister?

However, there was something else in that dream that felt weird. “Why was everyone calling me ‘Sakura’?” Nikki whispered. Maybe I should ask Corolla her opinion about it, she added in her thoughts.

On her bedside table, Vanguard lit up and a holographic window opened up over it. [Can’t sleep, Nikki?] Corolla said, rubbing her eyes.

Nikki shook her head. “No, I just had a strange dream,” she said telepathically to avoid waking up Sergio or Homura. “Want to hear about it? I can’t promise it will make sense, though.

[Sure. Afraid you’ve had some sort of prophetic dream like Sakura does all the time?]

Nikki grabbed Vanguard and walked over to the window. “I hope not, but I wanted to hear what you think about it. Sorry if I woke you up.

[Don’t worry about it. So, what was it all about?]

Well, I was in Venice’s Piazza San Marco…

 

Sergio found himself standing in a forest, during a heavy storm. The rain was pouring hard enough to be almost unbearable, and the darkness of the night was continuously interrupted by lightning strikes. How did I end up here?

He reached for his assault rifle, but there wasn’t anything on his back. The pistol’s holster was missing from his belt, too. Something’s fishy, I never leave my 92. Well, looks like I have no choice but to try to find a road?

After about a minute of walking, Sergio saw someone on his knees. The guy wasn’t facing him, but as Sergio neared the kneeling figure, he recognized the brown-haired silhouette. “Pyro? Is that you?”

Sergio ran over to him, but as soon as he touched him, Pyro fell to the ground, his skin pale and his eyes empty. Only then Sergio noticed the copper blades stuck in his friend’s chest.

Sergio recoiled, only to trip on what he assumed to be a tree’s root… except it wasn’t.

It was a girl with hazel hair and green eyes. Faith. She had a bullet wound in her chest, and she was lying in a puddle of blood, just as dead as Pyro was.

Sergio closed his eyes as he got up, fully knowing who he was going to see next… Kathleen. And, indeed, when he finally mustered up the courage to open his eyes, Kathleen was in front of him, sitting dead against a tree. Everywhere he turned, there were the corpses of his friends. Luna, Renè, Star, Kornel, Annie, Gea, James, Ami… everyone.

“What… what’s going on here? What the hell is this place?!” Sergio screamed, looking for a way out.

“This place is your sins,” said a familiar voice behind him. Sergio turned around and saw… her.

She was wearing a torn white dress and shackles at her wrists and ankles.

“… Sakura?”

She stared at him with dull, sad eyes. “Isn’t this what you always wished for? Dead friends you can angst about… and me, all for yourself, forever bound to you?”
Sergio looked down and, indeed, there was a chain going from Sakura’s shackles to a metal ring around his left wrist. It can’t be… this thing wasn’t here a few moments ago!

“You seem disappointed. Don’t you Suvians love this kind of thing?” Sakura continued, her head slightly tilted sideways, disdain dripping from her voice.

“I never wanted any of this!” Sergio shouted back. “I would’ve given my life to protect any of them… I’d give my life to bring even a single one of them back!”

Sakura kept staring while the rain slowly turned into blood. “And yet, they’re all dead and you’re alive. What are you going to do now? Keep pretending you’re the great protector of canon, when you’re actually its worst enemy? Wrap that poor Nikki around your finger, since you can’t have me? And what will happen to little Corolla, will she die too?”

“Leave Nikki and Corolla out of this!” Sergio shouted, his voice already hoarse. He closed his eyes, only to suddenly hear a gunshot.

When he opened his eyes again Sakura was falling, a hole in the middle of her forehead, and in his right hand there was a smoking pistol. Sergio threw it away with a scream and looked for a way out, but everything was flooded in bloody water.

Then, something started tugging at his left arm. Sakura’s dead body was sinking, and the chain was dragging him after her.

 

Nikki kept looking out of the window, staring at the falling snow that was slowly covering the city. Christmas is coming up in a few days… I hope this will be over by then.

However, her mind went back to the disconcerting truth they had discovered during the Blackout. By next April, we won’t be at the PPC anymore… but it’s not like we have another place to go, do we? Does it mean…

Corolla was going to be still at the PPC, but no longer as a field agent. And, in that particular mission, she wasn’t with them either.

Nikki glanced at Sergio, who was facing away from her, asleep. Are we going to come back alive from this?

 

Sergio woke up from his nightmare. Looks like I’m not getting much sleep tonight, just as usual. He turned around, and saw Nikki looking out of the window, her skin and nightgown looking paler due to the light diffusing from the snow. I’m feeling a bit of a déjà vu about this…

 

<A few hours later, Sergio suddenly wakes up.>

Sergio: What a nightmare… four flat tyres and a blown engine a few meters from the finish line, and I was winning the race… What happened earlier shook me badly.

<Sergio walks towards the kitchen to get some water, but in a corridor he finds Sakura looking out of a window, the moonlight making her fair skin and her nightgown so white to make her look like a ghost.>

 

Sergio got up from his bed and grabbed his jacket before walking over to Nikki. Once close, he put it over her shoulders. “You don’t want to catch a cold, do you?”

Nikki turned around, surprised by the gesture.

 

<Sergio sees her shaken by a chill, and so he puts his jacket over her shoulders. Sakura turns around suddenly, as if she was scared, only to calm down as she recognizes him>

 

“Something on your mind?” Sergio asked.

Nikki nodded.

 

Sergio: You’re still shaken, aren’t you?

<Sakura nods.>

 

“Is it about this mission?”

Nikki shook her head. “Yes and no. It’s more about… well… what we learned during the Blackout. I try to not think about it, but I am afraid we can die here, you know?”

“Yes, I know. But I’m not going to fall prey to despair just yet… and, if I know you as well as I think I do, you’re not going to, either.”

Nikki nodded again, but she still looked dubious.

 

Sergio: I can understand. Seeing death in the face is always scary. But it’s all over for now.
Sakura: Yes, but… next time? Already this time they… almost…
Sergio: Calm down. You’re with friends now.

<Sakura, though, is still shaken>

 

“Hm, there’s a coffee machine at the end of the corridor. What about some hot milk? It isn’t going to be as good as homemade honey milk, but might help you sleep.”

Nikki smiled. “That sounds like a good idea, yes.”

 

Sergio: I’m going to make some hot milk, do you want some?

<Sakura nods, a smile finally reappearing on her face. Sergio starts walking towards the kitchen.>

Sakura: Sergio?
Sergio: Yes?
Sakura: Can you put some honey in it?
Sergio: Sure.

 

Some minutes later, Nikki sat on Sergio’s bed, a paper cup in her hands.

“How is it?” Sergio asked as he sat next to her.

Nikki took a sip from her cup. “Still better than the Cafeteria’s.”

“If we survived the Cafeteria’s food, I guess they’re going to have to try really hard to get us.”

Nikki let out a short laugh. “True. You know what I’m thinking? I’m not going to give up, either. Even if there’s only a small chance for us to get out of this alive… I want to grab it.”

 

<A few minutes later they’re both sitting on a sofa. Sakura is drinking her milk, and is slowly calming down.>

Sergio: Are you feeling a bit better?
Sakura: Yes… I just couldn’t sleep earlier.
Sergio: I can believe it. That was a close call, but we’re going to get through this.
Sakura: Are you sure?
Sergio: If I hadn’t always believed that, I wouldn’t be here telling it to you. I’ve been through a lot of stuff, I’ve been injured several times, but I never gave up. And, in the end, I’ve always made it through. Because those fighting for justice always are stronger for it. And they always win.

<Sakura still doesn’t seem to be 100% sure.>

 

“That’s what I wanted to hear, our story hasn’t been written yet. We’re getting Madoka and Sakura home, and then we’ll get home too,” Sergio said, before putting an arm around her shoulders. “Can I count on you?”

Nikki rested her head against his shoulder. “Always.”

 

Sergio: I know, this might be the wrong speech. But in my life I’ve only fought, I’m not very good with words. All I really wish for now, is to have the right words to calm you down.

<Sergio, in yet another attempt to calm her down, pulls her towards him in a hug slowly, carefully, to avoid hurting that delicate, scared cherry blossom.>

 

Sergio smiled. “And I will always be here for you.”

A few minutes later, Sergio glanced at her. “Well, I guess we should try to get some more sleep, shouldn’t we…? Nikki, are you sleeping?”

Indeed, Nikki was fast asleep, and Sergio let out a sigh. “I hope Corolla isn’t having a look right now, or she won’t shut up for weeks.

 

Sergio: Whatever happens, I’ll always be by your side to protect you. Always.

<They remain that way, without speaking, for a while. A bit later, Sergio looks at her to see if she had calmed down, only to find her fast asleep leaning against him.>

Sergio: What do I do now? Knowing how much of a sleepyhead she is, she’s might be  the last one to wake up tomorrow… and no one will be able to get the girls to shut up if they see us like this!

<Truth to be said, that was actually the last of his thoughts. What really mattered was that Sakura wasn’t so worried anymore. Thinking about it, Sergio realized that the right words weren’t something he needed only to calm her down when she was shaken. There was something important he had to tell her. Something on which their friends had joked, but was starting to worry him.>

 

Sergio let out a short laugh, thinking about what had happened six years earlier. “Here I am, doing the same thing again. I haven’t changed much, have I?”

Sergio looked up in thought. “I wasn’t sure whether confessing to her was the right thing to do… and in the end I chose the wrong option. And now?”
Sergio caressed Nikki’s hair. “Is it alright for me to love you, Nikki? Or am I just making the same mistake all over again?”

 

Luckily for him, Corolla was actually busy tapping yet another series of keywords into Google, looking for Sergio’s badfic of origin. The PPC’s database showed “Mai Dire Fine” as deleted, but the Unison Device could be pretty stubborn sometimes. She was curious, and there was a chance that a copy of the fic actually survived somewhere, which could be important considering Sergio’s past seemed to be involved in their current mess.

Of course, the original listed address wasn’t working — the whole blogging platform where it was hosted had gone under, apparently, but some of the early chapters had survived on the forum where it was originally posted. Corolla started reading them.

Hmm… No wonder Sergio’s so ashamed of his past. This fic’s quite terrible.

The Unison Device continued reading until one of the scenes felt oddly familiar. An uncanonical Clow Card taking the form of a giant, robotic spider shooting death rays from its eyes.

Hm? This is… part of that weird dream Nikki had? I don’t remember Sergio mentioning that thing at the bar, but maybe he did later when I wasn’t looking…?

The Unison Device reached the end of the forum thread. Well, I guess that’s it, unless the Wayback Machine has it.

Corolla rubbed her eyes. Hm, I should really go to sleep, she thought before going to the wardrobe to look for her pajamas. However, when she opened the door, some of Nikki’s clothes fell out of it.

She sure packed her bag in a hurry, Corolla thought as she started picking up the stuff that had fallen out.

Hm? This is the backpack she had when we first met her, she thought when it was the last thing left. She picked it up, but a small box fell out of it and tumbled under Sergio’s bed. Corolla left the backpack and went after the box.

Weird, it has something in Italian written on it… she thought after grabbing it. Only then she noticed Sergio’s “emergency” gun case near her. She looked at both objects before sighing.

I really shouldn’t be going through your stuff, guys, but if they can give me some help understanding what’s going on… Corolla thought as she opened both.

Nikki’s box turned out to be a small jewelry case, and it only contained a hairclip decorated with transparent cherry blossoms. Wow, it looks so fragile… is it Murano glass or something?

Corolla looked up in thought. Wait, isn’t Murano glass made in Venice? she thought before turning her attention to the gun case. Inside, as she had briefly seen when he took it out earlier during the day, there were some photos, a couple dog tags, and a few other little objects.

Corolla took out the photos first. They were all dated between 2006 and 2008, showing Sergio together with the people he was with at the time. She suppressed a laugh at one dated Christmas 2006. Well, that was sure a weird group. Isn’t that Conan from Detective Conan, too? And looks like the whole CCS gang was in that fic, too…

Something on Sakura’s head caught her attention. She squinted her eyes, trying to have a look at it. Hm? That hairclip…

Corolla took Nikki’s hairclip out of the box and put it near the photo. They’re identical. How…

The Unison Device turned the photo, looking at Sergio’s barely readable handwriting. It read ‘Villa Espasia, Venice, 25th December 2006”

Venice again. Are these two hairclips actually one and the same? But then, why would Nikki have it? Unless this Sakura, and Nikki… It can’t be…

Blank Sprite – Mission Record 05

This chapter has been in Development Hell for quite a bit, but it’s finally done! Thanks to Desdendelle, Firemagic, Hieronymus Graubart and Son_of_heaven176 for betaing!

Mission record 05 – A burden made of words

Sergio, Nikki and Homura sat at a table in the corner of a bar. Since they currently had no idea as to where to go next, resting for a bit in a comfortable place seemed like a good idea.

“So, I think it’s time for my little story?” Sergio asked after they had ordered some hot cocoa. “I think you know already some small bits, so let’s start from those.”

“Well, it’s not much,” Nikki admitted, “You mentioned having been both an Interpol agent and a soldier, you’re a pretty skilled gun-based fighter, almost scarily so — you surprised me when we were at the shipping company this afternoon — and something bad happened in your past. Something you feel guilty about and have nightmares about. A lot of them. Am I forgetting something, Corolla?”

[He’s got decent machine empathy there, considering what he can do with cars and small planes. Aside that, there’s this thing about being the Sixth Turbo, clone of the Third Turbo, or something,] Corolla added from her usual holographic window.
“Yeah, that’s a good point to start with. According to what Intel dug up, my author came up with several different alternate-universe Self Inserts all named the same way, one of which — the third one chronologically — was quite a bit of a Gary Stu.”

[And you, the sixth one, were an abandoned attempt to re-write the third one’s story into something decent, right?]

Sergio sighed. “Yes, that’s it… but I lied a little here. The sixth Turbo… well, doesn’t quite exist.”

“Wait,” Nikki interrupted him. “Does that mean…?”

“Yes. I am the third Turbo. And I used to be a Gary Stu.”

The waiter arrived with their order, interrupting him.

[But having been a Gary Stu years ago means nothing now, you know?] Corolla continued after the waiter went away. [The PPC has plenty of reformed Sues and Stus.]

“I agree,” Nikki backed Corolla up. “Ari is one, too, and I don’t think she’s making it a problem for herself.”

“I know,” Sergio admitted. “That’s why I need to tell you the whole story. Since the other Turbos were each from their own badfics, I think we can forget about them. As for my story, let’s start from the beginning. There was this evil-overlord-wannabe-type villain, known only as Marcus. I later discovered his full name to be Marco Leone, but this doesn’t matter now.”

“Your archnemesis?”

“Yeah. What interests us now is that he had this long-term project for engineering the perfect second-in-command for his criminal activities — his own Dragon, to use a TVTropes term. As far as I know, there were three distinct phases for this, but none of them were very successful. Let’s go in order.

“The Mark 0 phase dates back to the early nineties. He experimented on his child while she was still in her mother’s womb in order to try to create an artificial esper. You know, someone with telekinesis, telepathy, that kind of stuff; I never discovered the exact details. It kinda worked: the girl who was born did indeed have that kind of power, but she had troubles controlling it and never quite enjoyed obeying him. So in the end our Marcus ended up with a spanner in his works instead.”

“While she was still in her mother’s… Wait, how could her mother agree to that?” Nikki asked, horrified by the idea.

“I don’t think they asked for her opinion, and frankly, I don’t know anything else about that woman. The girl, Kathleen, never talked about her. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she was killed shortly afterwards, considering that Kathleen was mainly raised by her aunt for all I know. But let’s continue with our small excursus.

“The Mark I phase started around 2000. After discarding the goal of imbuing esper powers, and with the help of more advanced technology than that of the Mark 0 phase, Marcus decided to go with genetic engineering, artificial aging and advanced conditioning to build Marcus Junior, his Dragon—and he managed to mess up that too. He did create a skilled fighter — only one that didn’t quite like the idea of fighting for the Dark Side. After about a year, the kid escaped, ended up losing his memories, and when prompted to come up with a name for himself by the doctors at the hospital he was brought to after being found unconscious on the road, he used an article about the Ferrari F40 in a magazine to come up with it.

“That car has a turbocharged three liter V8 engine and was designed by Sergio Pininfarina. Do the math.”

[That’s… you?]

“Corolla wins a teddy bear. Well, yeah, it isn’t that great of a name but at ten years old I thought it was cool, and… well, it’s my name now. I can’t see myself changing it now or ever. Anyways, for reasons I won’t go into detail on here because, well, badfic stupidity, I ended up becoming an Interpol investigator when I really should have been at school. And ended up clashing with my own ‘father’ several times.

“Long story short, some years later, in 2006, I kinda ended up with this group of ‘meddling kids’ roughly around my age fighting the evil Black Organization that intended to take over the world. Some of us were self-inserts like I was, some were OCs, and there were several canon characters from some random assorted continua as well. The main continuum was an Italian book series called Nina, the child of the Sixth Moon, but there were several animes, like Detective Conan and Cardcaptor Sakura, involved as well. So, in one nonsensical adventure after another, we ended up racking up what would have been a rather impressive charge list if the PPC ever bothered to pay us a visit.

“In fact, any PPC Agent taking on the fic would’ve sentenced me to death. Let’s just get the big stuff on the table already: I myself broke two of the most important CLAMP Universe rules  — ‘One True Soulmate’ and ‘All Deaths Are Final’.”

Sergio sighed. “I think you can guess why I can’t feel comfortable in a relationship with Nikki now. Not only because of who I am, not only because I don’t know how much of ‘Nikki as herself’ and how much of ‘Nikki as Sakura’ I like, but also because I don’t know how much she really likes me… or how much of it is just Stufluence subconsciously bringing another ‘Sakura’ to love me.”

The Agent looked down. “I prefer to live forever alone than to live with the doubt that I’m forcing you to love me, Nikki.”

“You aren’t!” Nikki screamed. “I like you for what you are now, and I don’t see a Gary Stu here!”

“Are you completely sure?”

“I… don’t know.” Nikki admitted, “But we have a way to see that.”

The brunette pulled out her C-CAD and pointed it at Sergio. The machine did a strange winding up noise, before shorting out and emitting a small puff of smoke.

“I’ve never been able to get a CAD reading of myself,” Sergio said tiredly, “I went through two or three different CAD generations, and yet they all seem to find me too confusing.” Sergio let out a short laugh. “The ones that didn’t go out had all sorts of funny readings. Like ‘I’m sorry Dave, I can’t do that’ or simply ‘No.’ Most useful one was a mini-CAD from the Department of Fictional Psychology: ‘Listen, he’s complicated, but he’s fit for the Duty so leave me alone’.”

[How did you end up in the PPC, then?]

“Well, that will also answer why I have so many nightmares about my past. I joined the PPC in January 2009, but I was only present in my fanfiction of origin until early 2007 or so. That was when, pardon my language, the shit hit the fan. We were a bunch of kids between ten and fifteen years old against a full-on criminal organization — we thwarted their plans several times, but it wasn’t going to last. We took casualties twice, and twice we found ways to revert their deaths, but the third one to fall stayed down. Granted, due to some sort of magic bond going in his family he would come back to life after a year if his evil twin brother was alive and certain other conditions were met, but it still put us under pressure. So we came up with a plan that … well, “crazy” would be quite the understatement when you try to describe it.

“We knew that the Black Organization had some sort of big plan going on that was bound to be put in motion very soon, but we knew next to nothing about it. So Kathleen, who was fighting on our side, came up with this great idea: use her powers to transport us forward in time six months to witness their plan, with half of us faking a defection to their side. We would then go back to the present time to prevent it from happening. It worked in theory: we discovered how the Black Organization took over the world in March 2007… and then we got stuck there.

“The Marcus in the future didn’t fall for Kathleen’s covert operation, though, and ordered her killed. Twice. The first time her cousin… no, our cousin Faith took the bullet for her. The second time… the bullet hit its intended target.”

Nikki put a hand on his shoulder. “I feel sorry for you. They were pretty much your family, right? Seeing them die without being able to do anything for them… it must’ve been terrible.”

“It was. Especially considering that, while Kath got a sniper bullet in the gut… I was the one who actually ended her life afterwards.” Sergio said, looking down again.

“She hadn’t been killed on the spot, but we couldn’t save her anyways. The ones among us who had some healing ability tried to cure the wound, but all they could do was to slow the bleeding a bit. She was still going to die slowly and painfully. So she… she told me… ‘spare me the suffering’.”

From under his shirt, the Agent pulled out a string holding a rather strange cartridge casing. It was shaped like the casing of a pistol round, but it was a lot bigger than those of the 9mm rounds he used in his Beretta. Nikki and Corolla were quite surprised by the gesture — they had never noticed that he was wearing that improvised necklace before.

“This is a .50 Action Express cartridge casing. I think Homura’s familiar with it — it’s used in the IMI Desert Eagle handgun… or, rather, hand cannon.”

Homura nodded slowly. It was one of the first guns she obtained in her early Puella Magi days, stolen from a Yakuza member’s locker. She had long stopped using it — military handguns like the Beretta M9 were easier to handle, and military bases had larger quantities of ammo for it than for the Desert Eagle.

The Desert Eagle was also the gun that she had used to put a bullet through Madoka’s Soul Gem on her own request in one of the earlier timelines, in a similar mercy-kill scenario, so she was understandably avoiding using it.

“Don’t worry, I was never such a Stu to actually carry one myself,” Sergio continued. “I had lost my handgun earlier and the only other member of my group who had a pistol had that. I used that gun exactly twice: once to… you already know, and once against the one who caused me to have to.”

 

Sergio got out of his car and walked towards a crashed Dodge Viper. The white and blue sports car was overturned, and fuel leaked from it.

 

“She was a sniper from the Black Organization. I don’t know her real name, but she went by the codename Chianti. Like the wine.”

 

Sergio stopped near the driver’s door. A rather young woman dressed in a leather suit was trying to crawl out of it.

 

“In a way it’s like she never was involved, as she’s a Detective Conan canon character.”

 

Sergio aimed the Desert Eagle and fired.

 

“Obviously I had no idea at the time, so I killed her. OK, she isn’t dead now due to canon snapping back and such, and she’s also pretty much of a psycho in-canon, but still: I killed a canon character. Anyways, I had kept the casing for the first shot, used it to make the cartridge for the second, and here it is.”

The Agent clutched the casing, sighing. “As much as I hate it, the only thing I have left of who, in a way, was my sister is the casing of the round that took her life.”

Sergio took a deep breath and continued. “After Kathleen’s death, we were stuck in the bad future. We kept fighting, obviously, but the Organization’s true strength was too much for us. They had the entire world under their control, we were outnumbered and outgunned. When we heard that the Organization had developed a prototype time machine, we tried to seize it in the hope of sending one of us back to warn our past selves… basically a suicide mission for everyone else.

“At the beginning, there were six of us, and by the time we reached our goal, half of us were already dead. And then we discovered it was a trap: there was no time machine. We fought fiercely, but in the end, I was the only one left standing. My friends and allies were all dead or had disappeared… well, the ones who were canon characters probably just snapped back to canon. All the Organization members who set up the ambush were dead, too.

“At the time I had an M16 assault rifle and a couple of laser stun guns. They kinda were my signature weapons, as I wanted to avoid killing unless strictly necessary.”

[Stun laser? How’s that even supposed to work?] Corolla wondered.

“It was that kind of fic. Long story short, I kinda managed to make it look like I had died in the fight too, leaving my laser guns behind and all — not so far from the truth, as I feel like part of me did die that day — and swore two things to myself: that I would take down the Black Organization, no matter the cost; and that I would always shoot to kill.

“Before then, I always tried to capture the villains non-lethally. Arrest them, so that they would be properly judged and all. But this also let many of my enemies escape, and that bit us in the backside. Hard.”

[Now I really understand your “shoot first, ask questions later” approach with Sues.]

“I just don’t want the same things to happen again… nor do I want to fall back to what I did afterwards.

“I had nothing to lose, and the Organization had to be stopped, so I became ruthless. I hunted down info about their leaders’ location — and hunted their men like they were pests. Every time I infiltrated a facility, I made sure to leave no survivors. It was easy to me… too easy. But I was engineered to be able to do that. Written to be able to do that.”

Sergio leaned back on his chair, his eyes closed. “Was I even human at that point? Probably not, and I had kinda realized it. When I found out that the leaders, including Marcus, were going to have a victory celebration, I sneaked in the building on that day, planted some explosive charges and detonated them without leaving first. Killed the head of the serpent, the body would have died too… and there wouldn’t have been any reason for someone like me to continue to live afterwards.

“But, as you can guess, I didn’t die. I think the explosion sent me straight into a plothole — that fic was so full of them it would be hardly surprising — because I later woke up in Tomoeda’s King Penguin Park.”

[Tomoeda? Sakura’s hometown?]

“The very same. I had landed in another badfic, and I witnessed a pair of PPC Agents following, charging and killing a Sue. Listening to them, I realized that I wasn’t any different from the abomination they had just put down. But… I didn’t want to be a Stu anymore. I wanted to atone for my sins, and I thought that the only way to do so was to start chasing Sues and Stus myself.”

“And so you joined the PPC?” Nikki asked.

Sergio shook his head no. “That would still be much later. For some months, I just kept preventing Suvians from harming Sakura and her friends. You know, while in my badfic of origin I had promised that I would always protect her, she wasn’t supposed to love me. Hell, she wasn’t supposed to even know me. But I saw no reason to break that promise. So I kept protecting her from the shadows, jumping from plothole to plothole.

“In the beginning, I tried to make other Sues and Stus understand the same thing I did — but none listened. As time went on, I fell back into being a ruthless hunter.”

 

Bullets zipped between the trees as Samantha Kuroyami ran desperately for her life. Everything was going so well Syaoran had just admitted his eternal love for her! and now someone was shooting her.

 

“I was brutal.”

 

Cornered against a tree, Samantha pulled out her magical sword and lunged at her black hooded chaser in a desperate counterattack. Her stabbing blow was parried, though, the blade getting stuck in the carrying handle of the figure’s assault rifle.

 

“So much so that I was more of a feral animal or a berserk weapon than a human.”

 

Sergio threw away his rifle, causing the girl to lose grip of her sword. The boy pulled out a combat knife and stabbed the Sue straight in the heart, before turning her around and slashing her throat too.

 

“Luckily, before I completely lost it, one of the plotholes that I used to travel between badfics actually brought me back to my world. The place was rather messed up: even if the Organization itself was gone, the 2007 Black Organization War left a deeply destabilized world.”

“… You were talking about that organization, that war?” Homura asked.

Sergio raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”

“I thought you were talking about a different world, but that war happened in mine.”

“… Wait, what? The 2007 Black Organization War shouldn’t have happened in your world! It is something that, as far as I know, is related only to mine,” Sergio rebutted.

[Wait, I found something here in the PPC records,] Corolla interrupted. [Sergio, after the canon characters disappeared from your world, it kinda became its own continuum. It even got a CIC: MDF-2006-413-QT. However, here it says that it doesn’t exist anymore, as it had later been absorbed in another continuum that was forming at the time. Let’s see here… the CIC is FST-1808-211-GU.

[Wait, what’s going on here? That’s Homura’s continuum!]

Sergio frowned and rubbed his temples. “Just what we needed. Another mess to deal with.”

“I’m not sure I understood what she said,” Homura admitted.

“Long story short, my war happened in your world because our worlds kinda fused up. Which means that we have to find what caused that, and a way to fix the situation.” Sergio explained. “Damn, this thing is getting out of hand quickly.”

Nikki looked up in thought. “Well, considering that Ami girl seems to be involved, too, I guess that once we save Madoka and Sakura and get who kidnapped them, canon might snap back? “By the way, you didn’t tell us anything about Ami yet.”

“You’re right,” Sergio said. “I guess we should get back to my little story: after seeing the state my world was in, I joined Strike Dove Inc., a private military company that offered its services to governments in need to stop dictators or terrorists. It’s there that I met Ami. However, after about a year, we got ambushed during a mission, and Ami died. I later discovered that the ambush had been ordered by another SDI operative, Vera Heartbound.”

“Vera was a Sue, and I had fallen right into her story. Initially, we were all in the same squad, but we never got along, so we ended up splitting into Raven Team, composed by her and our other teammate, James; and Skystreaker Team, me and Ami.

“After our team was preferred for an operation for one time too many, Vera started to fear that I was going to overshadow her. So she decided to take me and Ami down. As soon as I discovered that she was behind the ambush, I confronted her and managed to take her down as SDI’s base started to crumble. The whole PMC was her invention, though, and after taking her down, her grip on my world subsided.

“Outside, I found two fresh PPC recruits who were given Vera’s fic as a first assignment. Since I kinda wasn’t supposed to be there, I was not in the Words, and so they had no idea about what to do. At that point I accepted the offer to join because, well, killing Suvians was pretty much what I was already doing. At least with the PPC,  I would be paid for it. Still, during my interview I instantly fell at odds with the Marquis.

“I objected that if the Suvian were terminated as soon as they were identified as such, deaths like Ami’s could be prevented. But that isn’t standard PPC procedure. That’s why I don’t get along with the stupid daisy. Anyways, since then I have worked for the PPC, and here I am.”

“Now I understand why your past is such a burden to you,” Nikki said, getting up from her chair. The brunette walked over to her partner and hugged him. “However, don’t make the mistake of thinking that you’re evil or something. You’re much better than that… you’ve shown it plenty of times since we met.”

“Evil? If what he said is true, he’s one of the Kids of the War!” Homura added, “He’s a hero!”

“No, I am not,” Sergio rebutted, looking hurt. “I only was a Stu trying to be cool, and afterwards I just kept trying to fix the mess I made myself. My old friends were heroes… They stood the line, and died standing. You are a hero, Homura. If it weren’t for you, Madoka would have never been able to ascend and prevent Witches from existing.”

“I did that by mistake. I just wanted to save Madoka’s life, allow her to have a happy life! And on that goal, I failed!” Homura screamed, raising up and slamming her palms on the table. Luckily, no one in the almost-empty bar seemed to notice or care.

Nikki, who was still hugging Sergio, blinked a couple of times. “… OK, this is weird, so can we stop it?

[I agree,] Corolla echoed her. [We kinda have a bigger problem to deal with here, and angsting won’t solve anything. And the problem is: what the heck is up with this mission?]

Sergio rubbed his chin in thought. “Let’s see what we have so far: someone kidnapped two Magical Girls from two different continua, attempted to kidnap a third one, and developed a system to keep them enslaved. So far, it looks like a ploy to sell anime characters to the highest bidder or something like that.”

“But then they started toying with us with ambushes, as you said,” Nikki continued, “and then this Ami girl showed up.”

[Which she shouldn’t, because she’s dead, and even if she wasn’t… well, how does she know all about this situation? Especially about Madoka and Homura, I mean.]

Homura looked down in thought for a couple of seconds. “What if she was a Puella Magi?”

Nikki and Corolla looked at Sergio. “Is it possible?”

Sergio crossed his arms. “Not as far as I remember; there was no such thing as Puella Magi in my universe, and if it wasn’t for that fusion, there shouldn’t be even now. But… if she became one retroactively — and I have reasons to believe that she would contract if given the chance — then the Law of Cycles would’ve taken her when she died. So even that doesn’t explain how she descended back into the physical world, or why the heck we’re even dealing with a freaking continuum fusion in the first place.”

[Well, what we came up with is still something, I guess. Still, I—] Corolla was interrupted by a ping apparently coming from the console. [Wait, I got the results of a little search I decided to make. Let’s see… Oh. I’m afraid Sergio’s theory about the reason behind the kidnappings is true.]

“What did you find?” Nikki asked.

[Well, I did some Internet research about anime auctions and stuff, and turns out that there’s going to be a rather weird one tomorrow evening not far from where you are. It’s set during a formal, invitation-only dinner, and… well, I found rumors about this one in other universes’ Internets too, which is strange. And apparently there will be some “special, one-of-a-kind merchandise”. I think we know what they’re talking about.”

“Corolla, you’re a genius,” Sergio congratulated her. “That’s exactly what we needed to know.”

“So, what’s the plan?” Homura asked.

[Oh, I have one, I have one!] Corolla yelled out, waving an arm to catch their attention. [I think I have enough time to try to trace back the computer from which the announcement came and add a couple more guests to the list. This way you can enter without attracting attention and gunfire. What do you think?”

Sergio smiled. “I think that we’re going to a party then.”

 

Sometimes, it happens.

About four years ago I made a rambling (https://rc1587.wordpress.com/2012/02/24/little-rambling/) in which I talked about some stuff, including Card Captor Sakura, possibly my favourite work of fiction, and how fanfiction was the only way I could get more of Sakura’s adventures as Card Captor Sakura was long over. I even said this:

Yeah, I’d love to see a new series starring Sakura Kinomoto as the main character. A remake of the old one with the new animation techniques would be well accepted, too. But it will never happen.

Well, I’ve been proven wrong. For Card Captor Sakura‘s 20th anniversary, CLAMP announced they’re doing a sequel. For now it is just a manga that will start serializing on June 3rd, but… well, it’s Card Captor Sakura. I’m going to be very surprised if it doesn’t get an anime adaptation. (Something that makes me wonder – would the sequel’s anime follow anime or manga canon? Most differences are minor, but the number of the cards and Meiling existing or not can have a huge impact on how stuff turns out. Then again, Meiling was put on a bus, so…)

My biggest doubt is: will it be good? CLAMP being CLAMP is a good insurance, but what I’m afraid is that they’ll try to tie the plot of the sequel with Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle, something I’m not so going to appreciate. The farther Sakura and company stay away from that mindscrew, the happier I am.

Thankfully, despite the time skip being twenty years IRL, the sequel will be set soon after the original ending, with Sakura being now in junior high (AKA middle school for those unfamiliar with… American? English? schools. Here in Italy, we use middle school, but some news sites mistranslated.). It’s a pretty short time skip – the second movie/manga end without the epilogue was set towards the end of the last year of grade (elementary) school, so we’re looking at just a few months of time skip. I wonder if the manga epilogue with Syaoran returning from China is set at about the same time, or he gets back when the new incident has already begun?

I also am quite dubious due to the fact that, well, I’m not a kid anymore. I’m twenty-four now – I first watched CCS at… seven, I think? And I got properly hooked at fourteen-fifteen when it got a re-run. Will the magic work on me again?

In the end, I think I’ll have to trust Sakura’s motto: Everything will be alright.