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2012 (working title) - Work In Progress

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2012 (working title) - Work In Progress Empty 2012 (working title) - Work In Progress

Post by megarockman Wed Apr 27, 2011 12:49 pm

“Schoooooool's out, for, winter!” Midori proclaimed to the class as the minute hand reached the bottom of the hour, raising up her cell phone that was playing a guitar riff. One foot rested on Nao's desk, who looked rather exhausted about the whole thing: “If only it were out forever,” she muttered.

"Oh, come on nao, Nao-chan,” Mai replied, packing up her books. “Surely Midori-chan as a teacher is better than most others, right? At least it's not boring.”

“Boredom is almost better than this,” Nao replied, a sigh following it punctuating just how she felt about Midori's frequent classroom antics. Like the one time she painted her entire face black and white and set off previously-hidden pyrotechnics in the classroom as part of some demonstration or other about cults of personality or some such. The Director put a cap on it afterwards, but it didn't save Nao's eyes from momentary blindness and a somewhat more sustained smell of smoke on her uniform requiring several rounds through the washing machine to get rid of. “Almost,” Mai noted.

“Mai-chan,” Chie's voice called as she joined the conversation. “Are you planning on throwing any wild parties again this year?” she asked with a smirk.

“Chie-chan!” Mai protested in embarassment. “I told you already, that wasn't my idea!”

“I'm kidding, Mai-chan. Seriously, though, anything planned for Christmas?”

“It's Christmas, we get three weeks off, and it's our senior year. Of course I'm going to have a party!”

“Party? Did someone say party?” Midori piped in a little too excitedly.

Without alcohol, Midori.

“What? Oh, come on, Mai-chan!”

“We're all still underage! Are you trying to get us all thrown in jail or something?!”

“But it's a party!” Midori whined.

“I will not be spending Christmas Eve cleaning up your puke because you do not understand the concept of BAC!”


“No, Midori-chan. If you want to get smashed that badly, do it after you get home. Stops you from driving drunk and destroying furniture, anyway.” Mai paused her ranting for a moment. “Speaking of which, where's that 8000 yen you owe me?!” Mai's debt collection call, however, went to no one, as rapidly fading footsteps could already be heard retreating from the hallway when she looked again. She hung her head as she leaned on the back of a chair for support and let out a sigh.

Nao simply stood next to the doorway. “You were saying?”

“She still hasn't repaid you, Mai?” Akane asked, joining the conversation after packing up her books. “It's been...four months nao since the last party?” she said, pausing momentarily to come up with a number.

“Five,” Mai corrected.

“Where did you find it?” Chie asked.

“Off the Internet.”

“Online? I thought you were more of a window shopper.”

“I'm an everywhere-shopper, Chie. Whatever gets me something good for a good price.” She closed the zipper on her backpack. “And that was a real nice lamp, too,” she lamented.

“You know, Tokiha,” Nao pipped up. “If you're that desparate for the money, you could just get your manager at the diner to pull the wages out of her paycheck and into yours. She still works there, right?”

Everyone stopped. Mai and Akane let out groans exclaiming their stupidity. “Why didn't I think of that before?!” Mai exclaimed.

“Cause you're too nice to everyone to get what you want,” she retorted as she walked out the door and left them behind. “I'm off.”


>Play “ProjectRagnarok/videologs/PhaseOmega.mp4”
>Skip to SavePoint 4b

The heavy metal gates closes,sealing off the gateway with a punctuating clank. “That’s the last of it,” a woman dressed in a white jumpsuit says, turning her head from the just-closed door to the camera, her neck-length red hair swinging across her face from the torque. Beside her sits a handcart stacked with several cardboard boxes. She stops. “Wait, have you been recording all this?” she asks with alarm.

Nao, I’ve been recording since we got here,” a second female voice replies clearly, suggesting it was the cameraman.

Nao rushes around the handcart and hurried towards the camera. “Are you insane?! Turn it off!”

A third woman with long blonde hair steps into view, holding Nao back from the camera as its holder moves a couple steps back out of surprise. “Nao, chill out!” she calls out. “You know we need to have a record of this.”

Couldn’t she be just a little more…what’s the word…” Nao retorts before she falls upon a
vocabulary crisis.

Discerning?” the blonde woman suggests.

Yeah.” Nao turns back to the camera with a glare.

Nao, it’ll be fine,” the camera holder argues as the camera itself started moving past the two to get to the handcart, to which Nao retorts with a snort. The camera moves to the handcart’s handle and two arms come into the picture to grab the handle to push it down the hallway while the blonde-haired woman spoke: “Nao, listen to me. I need to know you’re going to hold yourself together. Once lockdown’s triggered, there’s only one way out for us. You can’t be thinking…” Her voice fades with distance as the cart is pushed through slab-gray hallways illuminated with fluorescent lights.

Not long after, a freight elevator is reached and the camera glances down to see a finger press a button. The doors with worn blue paint opens vertically, with a yellow safety gate rising up behind it. The cart is pushed in alongside two other carts also stacked with cardboard boxes.

Hey, hold up!” Nao’s voice calls out. The camera swings around and peers around the corner to see Nao and the blonde hurrying down the hall towards the camera and the elevator. Both of them are carrying knapsacks which seem to be packed full. The handcart is pulled backwards as the two women enter the elevator before the blonde one presses a button. The safety gate comes down and secures itself in place before the doors close and the elevator begins its descent.

Everything’s ready?” the cameraman asks over the loud hum of the elevator.

Yeah,” the blonde replies. “Hopefully we won’t need to use them.”

Considering our luck?” Nao scoffs.

A few moments of unease pass for the three passengers and their cargo. The camera pans around the shaft, briefly looking at the receding ceiling as the elevator continues its journey down. “What about navigation? You think Meg can figure it out in time?”

She’s smart, she’ll get the answer.”

Oh, like how she figured out the password?”

Nao, what’s with you today?” the cameraman snaps. “Would it kill you to be a little more
positive? We've got ninety-nine problems on our hands already – don't be number one hundred.”

And what the hell is that supposed to mean?!” Nao whips out a pistol and aims it straight at the camera for a moment before the blonde pushes her arm away. “Enough, both of you!” she exclaims over the elevator’s droning. “We got eighteen hours of work ahead of us – we are not wasting them arguing over stupid shit.” The elevator reaches its destination and the doors slowly open to reveal a three-way intersection of hallways. The blone turns to the camera. “You, shut up and get these carts to the sleeping quarters.” She turns to Nao. “You, stop blaming her for Natsuki and go help Miyu and Shiho.”

Yes, ma'am,” Nao spits out acidly, tossing her knapsack onto one of the carts before marching down the middle hallway towards a flight of stairs. The camera doesn’t move for a moment as Nao’s footsteps fade away. The cameraman finally speaks up: “Alyssa-“

Just…go. When you’re done meet me in the control room.” Alyssa says in an even voice as she heads off down the center hallway.



“Greetings, Yuuki-san.”

“Sup.” Nao passed by the android as she walked into the office. She ruffled the hair of a blonde girl's head who was sitting in a chair en route to tossing her stuff on the couch with a big sigh. “Godd, I already can't wait 'til I get outta here.”

“Well, hello to you, too, Nao,” Alyssa replied.

“Where's the nun?”

“Sister Yukariko has taken her child to the hospital for vaccination,” Miyu answered.

“Ah.” Nao turned on the light in the closet and began changing into her habit. “What are you doing over there, anyway?” she asked. “Homework?”

Alyssa looked up from the computer screen. “Student Council stuff.”

“Geez, kid, give it a rest. It's vacation time.”

“Easy for you to say, you're not on it.” Without Searrs putting the clamps on her for the sake of their Golden Millenium, Alyssa was free to let her true intellectual abilities shine through, skipping grades and this year joining the Student Council despite it usually being reserved for those of high school age. The former HiME were generally surprised at Alyssa doing something so outgoing, but after a year of rehabilitation under Sister Yukariko’s supervision she and Miyu had won over their old adversaries to varying extents. (The operative word here being “varying”.)

Still, Nao hadn’t failed to notice how things had changed in the past eighteen or so months. Especially for her. For one thing, she’s conducting social interaction without any real malice, unimaginable just a couple years ago. What had happened? Mostly the HiME, really: they didn’t exactly meet under the best circumstances, but Tokiha and company (well, chiefly her and the nun) couldn’t resist their innate big sister instincts and took her under their wings. Well, that might be exaggerating things a bit, but it wasn’t much of an exaggeration. They always were the more optimistic ones of the group, believing that as bad as the Carnival was for everyone, it didn’t have to remain that way. And Nao had to admit, they might have been on to something there. It wasn’t like she was stalking off on her own all the time nao – just enough to pad her bank account to get the nicer phones.

Sister herself had seemed more...Nao settled for “mature”, in the past several months as well. Her kid probably had something to do with it. Nao had to admit, the Sister walked the walk as well. If it had been her, she'd have aborted it as soon as she found out. For a long time she had been puzzled as to why Yukariko kept the baby, even though (from what she understood) the circumstances surrounding the conception would probably be classified as rape. Even the “abortion is a major Cathloic no-no” explanation didn't seem adequate enough – she was just too determined to keep the baby, even in the face of major admonishment from her superiors. (Nao once heard from Mai that it would have been far worse if Fumi hadn't pulled a couple of First District's strings and did some blackmail business.) If it was just the stance of the church, the Sister wouldn't seem so joyful whenever she went to address the wailing for the four thousandth time. The baby wasn't a burden for her.

That was it. The Sister didn't view her baby as a burden. Actually, none of them were a burden to her (or at least she never showed it). Eighteen months ago, Nao would have thought that statement absurd (especially since she was among her charges). But she pulled it off. And nao here she was, with a regular day job (kind of) and others to converse on relatively social terms. And Nao had to admit, it wasn't as bad as she thought it would be.

“Yuuki-san, you have two minutes to finish dressing and report for your duties.”

“Huh? Oh, right.” Nao snapped out of her thoughts and finished dressing before leaving for the
sanctuary. Stupid robot. What does she think this is, the military?


>Skip to SavePoint 22d

The dominating figure on screen is of the back of Alyssa’s, the camera quickly shifting upwards to show that she is looking at a laptop monitor. The screen itself appears to have a map layout of a facility, with several areas flashing intermittently in red.

Line 2 breached, repeat, Line 2 breached,” she calls out, loudly but calmly, through a walkie-talkie whose antenna was visibly sticking out from behind Alyssa’s head. The camera looks up at the room both Alyssa and the cameraman are in: bathed in florescent light, walls of gray concrete and floor tiled in white. The ceiling is bathed in shadow save for the florescent lights that hang off of them. The room itself has many lit consoles lined along the walls, with Alyssa’s laptop sitting on a table in the middle of the room. To the left is a narrow window, above the consoles lined up on that wall.

“How long until they get down here?” Nao’s voice calls over the radio.

Best guess, twenty or twenty-five minutes,” Alyssa replies. “It should take them some time to get through the seal.”

“That is insufficient, my lady. Current estimated time to completion of tasks is thirty-three
minutes,” a second, somewhat monotonic voice replies over the radio.

What’s the hold-up?” the cameraman asks.

“We were delayed by an unexpected power failure.”

“I forgot to put enough gas in the generator, all right?!” a third voice cries out.

Enough, Midori. You guys are still down there?” Alyssa gets up and moves to one of the consoles, pressing a couple buttons to bring up a security feed. Three figures, all female, are visible on screen in a somewhat cavernous room that only seems to be lit by two lights mounted at the corner of the left hand side wall and the ceiling. Two have their backs are turned to the camera; one of them is clearly Nao from the red hair and the walkie-talkie in her hand. The other had no walkie-talkie but had a faded blue hair color. The third would have been hidden behind them had there not been six countable legs on the screen. “Where’s Shiho and Meg?” Alyssa asks.

One of the other figures turns and looks up at the camera, revealing red eyes and a stoic demeanor. “They are at Generator 8. They are attempting to restart the generator.” Her mouth never moves.

Ignition problems, Miyu?”

“Yes, my lady.”

How many are working?”

“Presently, Generators 4, 6, and 10 are inoperable.”

Even if 8 gets up and running, nine generators will take too long,” the cameraman notes.

“We’ll have to use the emergency ones, then,” a fourth voice says over the radio.

Meg?” Alyssa asks.

“Shiho and I will get this thing going. You guys get to the emergency bunker and figure out a way to redirect those generators to get power to the gate.”

“Is it even possible?” Nao asks.

It’s our only shot nao, Nao,” the cameraman replies. The camera swings its attention back to the laptop, the flashing red polygons reminding them that their time is not unlimited. “As it stands, we'll be overrun and dead for ten minutes by the time the capacitors are ready.” It notices a thick white line on the dark blue background, thicker than the outlines of the various rooms. A label points to it reading “Line 3”. The camera snaps to Alyssa’s face, who is watching the same thing the camera was moments before. “Meg, soon as you and Shiho get Eight running, take our place up here.”

“What for?”

We’re going to trade bullets for time,” Alyssa replies. The camera pans to its right to show a
handcart with a dark green box and a large minigun sitting on it.



Dinner rush was starting to wind down, even though it was only 7:30. Akane figured it was the unusually cold night and the fact that it was the Friday before break – everyone would either want to head up to ski resorts or bunker down in a warm home. Alas, she was stuck in Linden Baum, having to await the end of her shift before she too could partake in the leisure that vacations are supposed to allow, with hers called Kazu-kun. She sighed as she picked up the last dirty dishes the latest guests at Table 12 had left and placed them in the tray.

“Hang in there, Akane-chan,” Midori offered as she passed by with another table's orders. Akane made a quick glance at Midori's retreating figure before she began wiping down the table. Yes, she could do it. Just one more hour. Then she can spend all the time she wanted with her sweetheart. She wasn't going to let her second chance slip away. It wasn't every lifetime that you saw the love of your life pass away in green sparkles and then have him come back to life. It had been the worst day of her life, the day Hari was slayed and Kazuya dissolved before her eyes; the weeks after weren't much better, just her in a catatonic state in a padded cell somewhere. Akane had hardly been aware of Natsuki bailing her out of that prison. It hadn't mattered that she was rescued.

Akane shook herself briefly to snap out of that self-induced stupor and finished wiping the table. The past was past. She would leave that episode behind – it does no one any good to dwell on it.

Akane finished wiping the table and began pushing the cart towards the kitchen. She passed by a group of bundled-up girls walking past her. “Hey, is that the new 5600 model?”

“Yeah! And check this out.”

“Did you just send a picture and a text message?”


“That’s so cool!”

A spot of black zipping across the floor caught her eye, and before she knew it, Akane found that she had busted through the swinging doors to the kitchen and stopped just far enough to let them close behind her. She was vaguely aware of her shallow breathing and the slight chill encompassing all over her skin. She blinked a couple of times to get her vision cleared.

“Akane-chan? Are you all right?” She turned to see Mai’s worried face look right at her. “I heard you scream.”

She had screamed? Akane didn’t remember screaming. “Oh, yeah, I’m…I’m fine.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, just…thought I…saw a roach.”

“A roach?!”

Akane quickly placed her hand on Mai’s mouth to shut her up. “I said I thought I saw!”

“Oh…you’re afraid of bugs?”

“I’m not afraidof them, I just…I was surprised. I think it’s just a piece of cake.” Akane was settling down and regaining her composure. That was good.

“You sure? You know my door’s open if you need someone to talk to.”

“I’m fine, Mai, but thanks.”

“OK.” Mai picked up the serving tray with Table 3’s orders and walked out into the dining area before stopping to see everyone’s eyes trained on her, including a group of girls standing in the middle of the pathway. “Eh-heh, just a piece of cake!” she said, spying the crumb of chocolate cake that had spooked Akane into the kitchen under a nearby table. Mai let out a sigh of relief when the crowd seemed placated by the explanation and she reached Table 3 with their meals. No need to have another visit from the health inspectors.

Her thoughts drifted back to Akane just as she wished Table 3 a good meal and headed back to the kitchen. Something about the whole thing bugged her, and it wasn't bugs. But Mai couldn't place it. The Carnival's been over for a year and a half nao. Normal life had taken hold. Sure, not everything that had been brought up during her first year had been solved – that would have been too fairy-tale – but there was something that about Akane. It wasn't love troubles: she and Kazuya Kurauchi have been pretty steady. They had their spats like any couple, but they were never of break-up potential. She knew about what Miyu and Alyssa had done, but Mai always kept an eye on the schedule and made sure Akane and Miyu never worked at Linden Baum the same day. They seemed to have buried the hatchet in class, at any rate.

So what could it be?


>Skip to SavePoint 22r

The video opens with a shot of a woman with long, magenta hair, leaning against a sandbag wall, blood dripping out of her mouth and breathing very rapidly. The camera quickly glances down to the woman's stomach, darkened with blackish blood and with two hands pressed on top of it, one from the woman, another from the camera holder. “Stay with me, Shiho.” Interspersed between the words spurts of rapid gunfire could be heard.

A cough is emitted from the woman, and more blood splatters onto the pair of hands on her stomach. The camera looked up to see the woman slowly mouthing. “Shiho? Stay with me, Shiho, you got that?” But it would be fruitless: her eyes glaze over and roll upwards before all movement fades away. The camera holder's hand reaches to her neck to check for a pulse before closing the nao-dead eyes with a hand and turning to her left to pick up an assault rifle there. The camera then swings around left, where Alyssa is at the helm of the minigun. She briefly stops firing to look at the camera, which shakes side to side slightly. A few gunshots from the right and the immediate collapse of Alyssa to the ground snaps attention to that direction, where the far end of the hallway reveals several soldiers in green and black, dressed to the nines with armor and armed to the teeth with guns. The barrel of a Gatling appears from the lower right and returns fire. “Alyssa!” The camera whips to the left to see Alyssa lying on her back and clutching her thigh, her gritted teeth betraying obvious pain. A small pool of blood has already formed on the tiled floor under her. “Oh, Jesus...” The Gatling continues to fire sporadically.

How bad?” Alyssa asks.

Wound's in your thigh and you're bleeding like a faucet. Can you move?”

Alyssa's leg nudges upward a bit before collapsing back down to the ground, followed by a cry of agony. “Can't. Hurts too much. Might be the femoral.”

Dammit.” More gunfire draws the camera's attention momentarily down the hall, long enough for the camera to see the Gatling return fire. Meanwhile, a left hand from the camera holder grabs on to Alyssa's left shoulder and begins to drag her backwards while Alyssa fires a couple of rounds with a pistol in her right hand. The two pass through a set of doors to reach a room before the doors swing closed in front of them and a somewhat muffled explosion rumbles from beyond. “Sis!” comes the cry from Meg as the arm in the camera view lets go of Alyssa and is seen beginning to drag chairs and tables to barricade the door. A momentary glance towards Alyssa shows Meg trying to tend to her thigh wound with a towel already soaked in blood. The small puddle of blood already seeping out from under Alyssa's leg onto the floor suggests it isn't enough. The camera returns back to the barricade, topping it off with a flipped-over table that was then kicked across the floor by the cameraman.

Meg, how much time?” Alyssa asks before letting out another groan of pain.

About a minute and a half.”

The camera looks away from the barricade and behind, beyond the wounded Alyssa to the next room. Inside the room sits a circular platform, only part of which is visible from behind the wall. A single yellow light is lit at the top of the doorway leading into the room.

All right, Meg, get to the gate – you gotta be ready to go through,” Alyssa says while grabbing a nearby backpack and looking through its contents.

What are you-” the cameraman starts before cutting herself off upon the revelation that Alyssa had pulled out a remote. “Are you insane?!”

We’re the last ones left, and soon as I fall into shock I'm just dead weight,” Alyssa shoots back. “Might as well hold Searrs off and make sure they can’t follow you guys.”

But Sis, we can take you with us! You don't have to die here!”

No, too risky. I'll slow you down. This whole thing's pointless if none of us can stop this from happening.” Banging on the barricaded doors interrupts the argument and draws the camera's attention. “Move!”

Meg, go,” the camera holder says to the girl, part of an arm visible in the screen pointing towards the gate before returning the camera's focus back on Alyssa, pattering footsteps confirming Meg's compliance with the order. “You're not doing this alone, Alyssa.” Two arms grab Alyssa and drag her back further among the sea of consoles that are arrayed on the control room floor.

I told you-” Alyssa begins to protest.

No, Alyssa. Me here is the best shot we got for someone clean to get through. When she gets through, we'll go in after.”

But what about-”

She'll be fine.” The arms prop Alyssa onto a seat facing the door, who nao was visibly laboring to stay focused despite the blood loss from the earlier wound. “How long can you hold up?”

Depends on how bad. A few minutes, a couple hours - who knows? Should be long enough to stop
them at any rate.”

The camera returns its attention to the doors, nao with muffled sounds of men coming from behind it. An arm produces itself into the screen and unfolds to reveal the earlier Gatling gun. “Time!” the cameraman shouts.

Twenty-three seconds!” comes Meg's reply.

They'll blow through in eight,” Alyssa notes before another groan of pain. A few moments of inaction pass, with only the faint whirring of machinery audible.

Alyssa?” the camera holder says.

Yeah?” Alyssa labors through.

If one of us dies here, I just want you to know-”

Shut up, I know.”

The barricade suddenly crumbles into pieces as a fairly neat hole is blasted into them. The Gatling fires off immediately into the new hole while the camera makes a quick glance at Alyssa, whose focus is on the door. Her right hand is pressing down on her wound, the left grasps a remote. A pistol laid on her lap, partially cradled by the arm trying to hold back the blood. “Alyssa! I'm going to run out!” Alyssa looks back and nodded slightly before taking the pistol in her lap with her right hand. The camera turns around and starts moving quickly through the maze of consoles as the sounds of pistol fire come from behind. The shadows cast by whatever overhead lighting yet to be shot apart reveal no visible camera or any separate object being carried, merely a person's outline running towards the doors.


The camera sweeps around the outside to the wall and approaches the doors at an inhuman speed. The opening is reached just as a couple soldiers rush into the room. The camera lowers in height a bit and turns to the side as its holder evidently shoulder-charges into the intruders. The camera's turn allows it to capture Alyssa leaning on a console, her left hand firing her pistol towards the broken barricade behind the camera, her right outstretched holding the remote, her thumb pressed firmly down on the bright red button. In the next room, the light above the gate-like structure turns from yellow to green, and a bluish glow is emitted from an unseen source beyond the wall, revealing Meg standing within the room and facing the camera. Alyssa waves her through before the camera makes a 180 degree turn and socks a soldier in the face, knocking him back into the hallway. The camera snaps back and the holder runs straight at Alyssa, who is still firing at the soldiers behind.

We’re gone,” the cameraman announces as the camera passes by Alyssa and a hand grabs the top of the chair. The camera spins around towards the barricade and begins to move backwards as the chair’s plastic wheels can be heard rolling when Alyssa’s pistol isn’t firing. Muzzles flash from the darkened hallway beyond the ruined barricade. Suddenly Alyssa’s right arm vanishes from view and a spray of red mist spouts out from her shoulder. The cameraman doesn't hesitate to turn the chair around and start rushing for the next room. The camera just enters when a loud explosion sends the cameraman tumbling headfirst into the far wall.

The audio suddenly cuts out. A ruined stump that used to be the right arm, metallic rods and wires all frayed at the end spewing from it, is splayed across the camera’s view on the ground for a moment when the tumbling stops before the camera snaps up to see the bottom step of the circular platform, an overturned desk chair next to it. The camera continues panning up to see a rectangular structure, bathed in the blue glow of what appeared to be a misty array of particles within it. At the top of it two orange blocks were attached with wires coming out of it and a digital reading that was counting down the tenths of a second from 6.2. The base of the structure shows Alyssa with two good limbs trying to drag herself towards it. The cameraman limps to her feet and quickly hops towards the blue glow. “Someone stop her!” a male voice shouts from behind. The cameraman's left arm gives Alyssa a good shove into the gate, her body disappearing as it crosses the threshold, until she disappears entirely. The camera looks up at the dwindling timer, which hits zero just as the cameraman moves past the threshold and a flash of light covers the entire camera.

Unexpected termination of recording.


The lights of Lindenbaum suddenly went out, followed soon after by a rumble that gentle rattled the ceramic dishes. One precariously placed dish bounced off a table and shattered upon the tiled floor.

Akane looked around the suddenly-dark restaurant in a slight panic. “What was that?!”

Last edited by megarockman on Wed Apr 27, 2011 4:15 pm; edited 3 times in total

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2012 (working title) - Work In Progress Empty Re: 2012 (working title) - Work In Progress

Post by Guest Wed Apr 27, 2011 1:27 pm

(( Very interesting so far...

Title eluding you? xD

Anyway, I kinda like it. It seems pretty cool. ))


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2012 (working title) - Work In Progress Empty Re: 2012 (working title) - Work In Progress

Post by megarockman Wed May 04, 2011 1:13 am

“Oh…” The girl massaged her head as she tried to get her bearings. The first thing she noticed was that she had somehow ended up in a sitting position, her back supported against something stiff. The second thing she noticed was just how cold it was. She opened her eyes and was taken aback by what she saw. That she was outside. That she was in a forest. That there were some bushes in front of her. That she was on top of a slight hill leading down to a pond to her right. That there was…snow on the ground? Except for a radius of about three feet around her where dirt was exposed, the ground was covered in snow. Did that mean…

The girl stood up and took off into the woods. She had to find out for certain.

“The total is 4470 yen, Miss.”

The young woman handed the driver five 1000-yen bills before stepping out into the cold. “Please keep the change.”

“Thank you, Miss. Please stay warm.” The taxi drove away, leaving a solitary figure standing on the sidewalk. The winter coat she wore would be unassuming by itself, but even with no moon and no power, the emergency lights spilling out from the lobby of the apartment building was enough to work with for her face’s natural elegance. She felt the lobby being cooler than usual, though with the blackout nao approaching its third hour that was to be expected. Despite the chill, she removed the hood from her head, releasing long brown hair from its prison. This was the first visit Shizuru Fujino had made to Fuuka since March, but even with the power out, one glance at the individual mailboxes for each apartment’s resident arrayed on the wall still brought back a wave of memories. Even if the emergency lighting made it seem off.

The staircase that led up to Natsuki’s apartment was always lit with emergency lights, so the walk up to the fourth floor was more familiar. Shizuru took her time, partly out of the cold. No, the cold was just an excuse. It had been nine months. No letters. No emails. No calls. She thought it would have been best if they just moved on, if she moved on. She had had her trust, and she had thrown it away. It would have been the proper conclusion to the story. But she couldn’t let it be. Maybe it was wishful thinking, the idea that everything could be salvaged after what had happened. But if the past couple of years had taught her anything, it was that nothing was certain.

A few minutes later, Shizuru found herself standing in front of the door to apartment 404. This was it. Her first contact with Natsuki since that day. She knocked twice on it after a moment’s hesitation. She heard a muffled voice from behind the door, her heart at once excited and apprehensive. The clack of an unlocking deadbolt preceded the opening of the door.

“Oh, Natsuki!” Mai exclaimed when she opened the door to her darkened apartment. “I’m glad you’re all right!”

“Just wanted to make sure you’re all right too. Can I come in?”

“Of course.” Natsuki took a couple steps in and noticed the two gossip girls huddled around kitchen table. All three of them were bundled up pretty well. “We were listening to the radio,” Mai explained. “Helps take our mind off of the cold.”

“Oh, right. No power, no heater, no electric stove.” Mai led Natsuki to the kitchen table, where a portable radio sat: “…Police are urging the public to remain calm as Kanto Electric personnel are working to restore power. As of this hour, an estimated 30,000 people remain without electricity in Kanagawa and Shizuoka Prefectures. Incredibly, there have been no reports of deaths at this time stemming from this evening’s earthquake, though there are reports of serious injuries from several area hospitals…”

“That was one weird earthquake, I’ll tell you that,” Chie said.

“Well, be glad no one’s hurt,” Mai replied.

“You know, she’s got a point, Mai,” Natsuki said just as she walked past the table and to the window. The campus still had no power and the moon wasn’t out; the random flashlight wandering the cold night or spilling out from nearby buildings were the only sources of light, though the reflective snow itself mitigated the darkness a bit as well. “I saw no signs of structural damage anywhere while I was outside.”

“Well, it wasn’t that big of an earthquake, thankfully,” Mai replied. “I’d imagine the buildings would be built to withstand something much stronger.”

“True, but even the buildings built before construction codes were put in place looked no worse for the wear. What kind of earthquake knocks out power lines but doesn’t even put a crack in 150-year-old temples?”

“Our kind of luck?” Mai offered. “Maybe the worst of it happened where the only thing to knock over was power lines.”

“There isn’t anywhere within fifty kilometers where that would make sense, Mai,” Natsuki replied.
“Even in the mountains. There’s just too many people here.”

“Seriously, Natsuki, aren’t we being a little paranoid here? It was just an earthquake,” Mai
said. Natsuki dropped the topic from further discussion when she heard the annoyance in her voice. “So where were you this afternoon, anyway?”

“Mai, I’d think you’d know by nao you’re not going to be my mother.”

“That doesn’t mean I can’t worry about you.”

“I had business to take care of, all right?”

“That couldn’t wait until after classes ended? Midori-chan missed you. Oh, and your paper.”

“Oh, that – taken care of. Due after Christmas.”

“Lucky,” Chie muttered.

“Where’s Mikoto?” Natsuki asked.

“With Reito at the Kanzaki home, last time I checked,” Mai answered.

“He came into town already?”

“Yeah, apparently he gets out of school early. They wanted to spend some time together. I hope they’re all right.”

“Yeah.” They couldn’t really be blamed for wanting to catch up on all those years missed. Natsuki flipped open her phone.

“Need to call someone?” Aoi asked. “I have a signal – you can use my phone if you want.”

“No, it’s all right.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, I’m just waiting for a call,” Natsuki replied quickly. The silence lingered for a bit, save for the radio: “In other news, an emergency landing of a Haneda-bound flight from Matsuyama was made after several electronic systems failed on the plane’s approach. The pilot reported instrumentation as well as navigation loss while the plane was approximately 85 kilometers southwest of Haneda Airport. The plane made an emergency landing at Yokota Air Base after the pilot reported that the plane could not reach Haneda. Spokespeople from both the Japan Transport Safety Board as well as…” The closing of Mai’s front door drew everyone’s attention: Natsuki had left without a word. “Natsuki?” Mai called out.

“What’s up with her?” Aoi asked.

Mai shrugged. “Business, I guess. She’s been like that a lot lately.”

“Aren’t you worried?” Chie asked.

Mai looked over at the door, a worried look creeping across her face. “I know it’s been eight or nine months nao, but…I’d be lying if I said no.”

Outside, Natsuki hurried to her Ducati while reading over the text message again:

A job for a lead
The bar, 30 minutes

“Kuga, you better not have – Oh.” Nao stopped talking when she saw it wasn’t Natsuki on the other side. For a moment the two of them stared at each other, neither of them believing it was the other on the other side of the door. Well, this was awkward. “Um…hi,” the redhead said finally.

“Good evening, Yuuki-san,” Shizuru replied, courteous as always and not seemingly bothered by the fact that a blanket-draped Nao had answered the door to Natsuki’s apartment. “I assume Natsuki is not in right nao?”

“Yeah, she’s out doing…something, I don’t know what.”

“I see.”

Another moment of unease passed before Nao spoke up again. “I don't know when she'll be back, either.”

“Might she be in tomorrow morning?”

“No promises.” Nao began to close the door.

“Wait, please, Yuuki-san.” Nao stopped closing the door when she saw Shizuru place her hand on it. “Would it be all right if we talked?”

“About what?”

Shizuru paused for a moment. “Two years ago,” she said simply.

Nao stared right at Shizuru. “Do you seriously think I just grant audiences like that to random people who drop by? Especially someone who doesn’t show up around here for ages.” Nao paused momentarily. “And someone with your kind of history, too,” she added, just to pile it on. Words alone would hardly begin to make up killing her mother, but she would make the most of it. She wanted to twist that blade so badly for so long. And she saw it – that little crack in her perpetual mask of hers. That little flash of recognition of seeing her prey in fear. She knew what to look for – she had done this kind of thing about a million times.

And yet, she wasn’t satisfied. In fact, she felt…guilt. Holy good gravy, what had they done? It appears eighteen months was enough for Mai and the Sister. Damn those two, taking away the pleasure of payback that she let simmered for a year and a half! Nao sighed. She did have to hand it to her – she did seem serious. Other than that flash of pain, she kept her composure. And she wasn’t leaving. The power was out and she could go to where there was electricity and heat, yet here she was still. Whatever she wanted to do here, she really wanted it.

Nao glanced next to the open door and spotted a screwdriver lying on top of a table. The hell with it, she thought to herself before she opened the door and stepped aside to let Shizuru in, nonchalantly swiping the screwdriver after Shizuru had passed. The two took a seat in the living room, Shizuru having taken the metal folding chair first and leaving Nao with the more comfy single-seat couch. “Talk,” Nao demanded when she sat down.

Shizuru sighed and had to smile a bit at textbook Nao behavior.

“My lady, I reiterate my recommendation that-“

Alyssa’s hand shot up to stop the android’s talking. “Miyu, I told you already, this is a bit too coincidental for my comfort.”

“My lady, I would like to put forth Occam’s Razor.”

“I know it’s most likely a coincidence, but the power’s out – what am I going to do in the church? Besides, you detecting a large change in the magnetic field, reports of power outages forming a pattern consistent with an artificial source, the fact that by your calculations it’s centered…by the power plant – Miyu, don’t think for one second I’m not going to at least take note of this. If someone’s screwing around with EMPs or something I want to know what’s going on.”

“Very well, my lady. Are you dressed adequately?”

“I’ll be fine, Miyu. Any more and I’ll be the Human Coat Rack.” The two continued on through the virgin snow, Miyu leading the way with a flashlight. Soon, they reached a pond, where Alyssa noticeably slowed down. “We’re here,” she said simply as she came to a stop at the pond’s edge.

“My lady?” Miyu called back.

“Don’t worry about me, just…haven’t been back here in a while.” “A while” meaning two years, she added in her head. Alyssa paused for a moment to look around. The place was pristine, the snow white, like how it was that day when Searrs cut the two of them loose. It was blunt, the way they had been dealt with by Searrs, but it was typical for an organization like them. Alyssa had seen it many times when they raised her for their own machinations. It served as a very powerful motivator for her to get the job done right the first time…at least until she fell victim to failure as well. Cold, sure, but she knew it hadn’t been anything personal for Searrs, just business. (Father Greer was another matter, but Miyu closed that file already.) You don’t survive in history’s shadows by making things personal.

Not that it not being personal made it easy for Alyssa to move on. She wasn’t given to accepting a deus ex machina for the ending of her story. Oh, sure, it was a happy ending on balance, but it didn’t sit well with Alyssa because it was given to her. Out of mercy. In all fairness, she should have stayed dead. Miyu should still have been a lifeless metallic shell sitting either at the bottom of this pond or in a box in some warehouse, forgotten and collecting dust. They had lost – it would have been the just outcome. It should have been the just outcome. Yet her enemy had brought her back along with the other HiME. It wasn’t a matter of ungratefulness, it was a matter of…it didn’t seem right. She didn’t earn it. Maybe it was part of the reason why she threw herself into the Student Council despite her age. It was like cosmic mortgage payments for her resurrection. It was the least she could do.

“My lady?” Miyu’s voice called. “Please come here.” Alyssa hurried up through the snow to the top of the hill when she saw what her guardian’s floodlight uncovered from the darkness: a half-circle on the ground with a three-foot radius had no snow, exposing the dirt that lay underneath. The circle itself was centered right at the base of that tree. More importantly, said tree showed some burn marks on the side of the trunk facing the pathway. And on that pathway there was a set of footprints in the snow that traced away from the bared earth…but none leading into it other than their own.

Alyssa turned to her guardian. “Miyu? Is this where you calculate the origin to be?”

“Yes, my lady.”

“What is this I’m looking at?”

“I can offer no feasible explanation at this time, my lady.”

“Then we’re gonna need to find one.”

“Yes, my lady.”

Alyssa looked again at the footsteps that fled the semicircle. “What in the world is going on here?”

“I realize that what I have said is rather sudden,” Shizuru concluded.

Nao snorted. “You’re telling me. No one’s heard from you since March.”

“But I felt that I had to tell this to you in person. It would not have been proper for me to tell you over the phone.”

“A warning would have been nice. It’s usually not cool to just pop out of nowhere after being gone for months and lay something like this on someone you’re not really on great terms with.”

“Again, I apologize for the abruptness of my request, Yuuki-san. But my original intention was to talk to Natsuki first.”

“What made you change your plan?”

“Natsuki is not here right nao. But you are. I had originally intended to talk with Natsuki first, but I felt that nao was a good opportunity to try to smooth our…differences over.”

“After being MIA for months, in the middle of a cold December night, without power, without heat. You got a really screwed up criteria there, Fujino.”

“Still, were you not willing to give me a chance? You have made no move in driving me away. Even if you did take the screwdriver as a back-up plan.” Nao’s eyes went wide briefly when she said that. “I understand your reservations, Yuuki-san, I took no offense.” Shizuru paused for a moment as Nao produced the screwdriver in question but kept it sandwiched between her right hand and her lap. That turned out to be unnecessary, as Shizuru then stood up. “I should be returning to my hotel. It would be unreasonable for me to expect you to give an answer right nao.” She bowed her head. “Thank you for your hospitality,” she said before walking for the door.

“Wait,” Nao said, standing up as well and beginning to follow when Shizuru got about halfway to the door. “Are you gonna come back in the morning?”

“I plan on doing so, if it is my best chance of seeing Natsuki.”

“All right, I’ll let her know.” Shizuru stopped. “What?”

“Thank you.”

“Yeah, well, it’s not exactly my wish to have a mopey roommate.”

Shizuru reached the door and opened it before turning back around again. “Oh, I had forgotten to ask – how did you end up becoming roommates?”

“Senou wanted to bunk with Harada this year, and I didn’t want to gamble on ending up with some annoying brat for a new roommate. That, and Mai kinda asked me.”

“I see.” Shizuru let a smile form on her face and a quiet chuckle escape from her lips as she opened the door.


“Nothing, Yuuki-san. Just…Natsuki was right about you. Good night.” Shizuru left before Nao could ask what she meant by that. Nao peeked her head out into the hallway and just caught a glimpse of Shizuru disappear into the stairwell before retreating back into the apartment and closing the door. She knew what Shizuru had meant – she was getting soft. Nao sighed. Well, having friends is nice, she had to admit. Real friends, or at least what passed for friends in her book.

Still, she kept her distance. She had to. They had tried to kill her before, after all. Granted, they were duped, but who knows what will happen in the future. Things can change quickly.

Nao shuddered a bit before going over to the couch and wrapping the blanket around herself.
Right nao, though, she wished the power would get back on soon.

In hindsight, running blindly perhaps wasn’t the best idea. As far as she could tell, she was the
only one who made it through. Everything relied on her nao. It wouldn’t really help if she caught hypothermia from running in the snow. In a jumpsuit made of cotton that soaked up the moisture both from melting snow against her body and her own perspiration. Without a jacket of any kind on. Or gloves. Godd, she never knew this place could get so cold.

Her movement slowed to a trudge, out of energy and not at all helped by the snow that was slowing her down further. It certainly wasn’t helping in trying to keep her warm nao. And on top of that, she was utterly lost. She didn’t know her way around the place – she had left that part to the others. The girl finally turned her around and looked up the side of the hill she found herself on. Behind it, she could see a bit of light spilling, white as the moon. As good a place to start as any, she figured.

But the farther up the hill she trekked, the more tired she became. After all the trouble she and the others had slugged through, the months of preparation and hours of tension and fighting, walking up a hill should have been a walk in the park. But the past twenty four hours have been costly in terms of casualties: at least four of them shot dead by Searrs, two currently MIA and probably dead as well one way or another. How did they find out? And she hadn’t gotten a whole lot of sleep, what with the project’s final stages requiring so many things to go right. And only one shot at it. It had worked…at least for nao. But she had to stay alive and figure out what her next move would be once she gets to the top of the hill.

She didn’t know how long it was when it hit, but she realized wouldn’t make it that far. The hill was pretty high to begin with, and the longer she stayed out in this cold the more her already-sapped body would tire. Her feet were slowing more and more. Dammit, she had to stay awake! She couldn’t let their last chance flicker away. Maybe walking over there on this plateau where those benches are would be…

The girl forgot about the cold for a moment when she saw the view from the resting place. Down below, the city of Fuuka shone brightly next to the sea. She was too high up and the buildings too close together for her to see any people walking on the sidewalks, but she could hear an occasional car horn or shouting of someone, a shout of joy or happiness and not of fear. The moon wasn’t anywhere in sight – the light she saw before was coming the city itself. She had never seen the place so alive, even with the outer areas father along the coast still in complete darkness save for car headlights. And though most of the light was white, there were some different colors, too. Blue, red, green… “This is…” she managed to get before her weakening body finally gave way on to the ground.

Not two seconds after the girl collapsed, another figure came running up the hill, the light from her flashlight bouncing all around the pathway. “Hey!” she called out to the fallen girl. “Are you all right?!” The girl got down on one knee and removed a glove to check her temperature. Her head whipped back around so fast the hood of her coat fell away.

“Grandpa!” she called back down the hill. “Someone’s up here! She needs help!” The hustling senior citizen’s flashlight soon illuminated the brown coat, four pink pigtails, and the very concerned look on her face.

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