Chapter 4

        January 18, 2015.
        There had been no contact from the Fugitive for almost two weeks, so there were no team meetings at the inhibitor room. Homura tended to her own business. She hoped to monitor anyone who may be important to the ongoing struggle, especially Madoka. After staring for a few moments at the billowing smoke pillar from the damaged Inhibitor 2, Homura placed her hand onto the primary inhibitor's frontal column.
        The viewscreen showed Madoka, Sayaka, and Kyoko having hot drinks in paper cups at the RED Coldfront base. However, it wasn't too chilly inside the base, so all three were in their school uniforms.
        Sayaka also brought along the striped katana that the team acquired from Stocking. Madoka's eyes fell upon the katana.
        "Hey! Sayaka?" Madoka asked worriedly as she pointed at it. "Won't you run into that girl again?"
        "Yeah," replied Sayaka. "It's bound to happen sometime."
        Madoka whimpered. "Well, I have an idea! Maybe you should find her first and talk to her, you know, to figure out how you can work together."
        "Wouldn't that be something?" Kyoko cut in. "It'd be like one of those stories where love and courage triumph and stuff."
        "You want me to talk to her?! That's totally nuts!" yelled Sayaka. "There's no way I'd get along with someone like that."
        "You feeling okay?" asked Kyoko. But as she looked up, she saw a woman peeking around the wide entrance doorway.
        The woman had long dark red hair and red claw-like gloves, one of which she used to give the three girls a thumbs-up. The curved horns on the woman's head drew Kyoko's attention the most.
        As well as Homura's.
        She remembered seeing that woman return a pink, bird-like magic wand to a young girl over a year ago.
        But a signal scramble on the primary inhibitor changed the viewscreen's display to something else: a scan of a coastline map, which was worn out and marked with circles and several lambda symbols.
        After a few seconds, a small flashing red symbol appeared near the top-left corner with a slow repeated beeping. The symbol looked like a claw with a right-angled bottom right corner, and a circle in the middle.
        Suddenly, Homura heard a radio-filtered voice behind her.
        "Acquiring on visual."
        Homura turned around and saw the gasmasked Time Police officer waiting there. She didn't hesitate to turn her shield a quarter-turn counterclockwise, opening the circular windows and exposing the inner gear mechanisms.
        The officer and inhibitors in the area turned a dull wash of grays. Homura then pulled out a pistol from behind her shield, and fired at the officer's head.
        She put away her pistol and turned her shield back to its dormant position.
        The multiple-shot rang out as the area returned to full color, followed by a long static-tagged beep that marked the officer's defeat. Homura took another look at the coastline map on the inhibitor's viewscreen. She considered that pulling up the map, even if by accident, may have drawn the officer to her location. She then shut down the inhibitor.


*   *   *

        January 20, 2015.
        It was Kyoko's turn to use the inhibitors. She'd arrived in her school uniform to have a conversation with the Fugitive, and she brought two people along with her: a blue-skinned zombie-like girl with her mouth stitched up, and a tall blonde-haired girl with a distinctive angry look in her eyes.
        "Okay, what did you want to talk about?" she asked.
        All the Fugitive voiced was a nervous breath, followed by a mutter: "I... I don't even know what, anymore."
        Kyoko continued. "Well, we sort of got the same goals, I guess. We kinda teamed up so we could beat whatever we couldn't beat by ourselves."
        There was no answer; just another nervous breath from the Fugitive. While Kyoko took out her phone and thumbed through the menus, the two other people in the room began to talk.
        "I've seen you before..." said the zombie-like girl, known as Squigly, with an echoed voice.
        "Does it really matter?" replied the blonde-haired girl, named Annie, in a low voice.
        "The scary part is how natural it feels."
        "It's pointless, just like all this."
        The two looked at Kyoko while she showed, to the primary inhibitor's viewscreen, a candid photo she took of Strength on her phone.
        "It's gonna be pretty dangerous for sure," admitted Kyoko. "Don't underestimate this stuff. This ain't a job anybody can do."
        Annie's stare became more of a scowl, to Squigly's confusion.


*   *   *

        January 21, 2015.
        Engineer brought the two robotic replicas of himself, known as Mecha-Engineers, to the inhibitor room, after leaving them dormant for a long time. With his camera-mounted PDA in hand, he programmed them to perform percussive maintenance onto the two working mental inhibitors using slower-than-usual arm swings. One robot, which had a blue tinge, used Engineer's wrench in its right hand, painted like a yellow glove. The other robot, with a mostly gray appearance and both of its arms painted like yellow gloves, punched repeatedly with its own right hand.
        The impacts on the inhibitors, though, were as loud as ever.
        Soon, Mami entered the inhibitor room in her school uniform, with her walkie-talkie attached to her hip once more. The Mecha-Engineers paused their repair work and turned to face Engineer and Mami.
        "Did something happen?" she asked.
        "No," muttered Engineer.
        Pew pew POW!
        The time-screw's rapid explosions flung two people into the room: an unconscious young girl with long plum-red hair, and a small humanoid girl with what looked like pink pigtails. The girl wore a green-and-white school uniform and a hairpiece with three pink petals. The humanoid had a black hood with red polka dots, as well as a red cape.
        "Aw, hell," grumbled Engineer.
        Mami raised her hand at Engineer in a brief gesture, and began to look at the girl's right hand. The girl held a number-three gesture with it.
        Suddenly, the girl's eyes shot open.
        The girl's scream caught Engineer and Mami off guard. Then, in a matter of seconds, the small humanoid woke up, shot herself into a midair hover, and sped off into the surrounding black void.
        "What is this? What's going...?" demanded Mami.
        The girl shakily held up her right hand's number-three gesture for a moment before letting it drop to the floor.
        Mami silently gasped and covered her mouth. She had heard rumors about that girl, who was known as Kisaragi.
        Engineer spoke to the girl on the floor. "Sorry to put out your fire, but what in Sam Hill were you thinking, little missy?"
        Mami looked at Engineer and back at Kisaragi. That number three she held up... The rumors involved Kisaragi getting violently written out of an adaptation... or something like that. The rumors claimed that both she and Mami had the number three in common.
        Engineer looked at Mami's shocked expression, and then watched as Kisaragi closed her eyes and fell unconscious once more.
        "Aww, good night Irene!" he grumbled in frustration. "I ain't got time to die."
        That certainly didn't help much for Mami. Neither did looking at the unconscious girl's number-three gesture. It almost came as a relief that the slashed Inhibitor 2 then blared its force field's klaxon, and set off another crackling time-screw that removed Kisaragi from the room.
        The two remaining inhibitors then set off a buzzer at the same time.
        The viewscreens turned red with white flashing text:


WARNING: Security breach detected

        The blue Mecha-Engineer then declared, "Would ya look at that?"
        "Yeah!" replied the gray Mecha-Engineer.
        Engineer groaned. The breach-detectors had been out of order for almost a year-- since around the time he discovered that dreaded recording of Sasha with a candy cane. This meant there was no telling whether the detectors had just picked up the two girls who were just in the room, or if they were belatedly reporting an Opposition Member's arrival from months ago.
        Static then blared over the comm systems, forcing Engineer to remove his hardhat-headset.
        Mami then let a worried expression appear on her face as she looked at Engineer, next at her walkie-talkie, and finally at the flashing text on the inhibitor viewscreens.

        After the static finally stopped, Mami was disappointed when the Fugitive's voice didn't broadcast over her walkie-talkie. However, she decided to stay and watch Engineer and his robots work on the inhibitor machines.




Chapter 5 >