Chapter 2

        For all the claims the Fugitive had made, Engineer felt that whatever happened to Yutaka was quite similar to what his mercenary coworkers witnessed a few years ago. He raised his gloved hand to his chin for a moment.
        Then, he turned around and walked towards the inhibitor machine that was set across the small area. Inhibitor 3 was the one that handled the more volatile archives, and its records supplemented the footage from several gatherings involving the Resurrection Movement; another one was scheduled two months away.
        Engineer tapped the inhibitor with his hand.
        Inhibitor 3's viewscreen displayed its numerical designation before scrambling its signals with a garble of electronic noise.
        Luckily for Engineer, the inhibitor displayed some surviving footage from a few years ago.
        The timestamp read JAN 2 2011.
        It was the day that Miku, the turquoise-haired, part-schoolgirl, part-spy outfit-wearing idol, made herself known to the mercenaries during what turned out to be a reenactment of a controversial case file video. Engineer and his fellow mercenary coworkers had to hold off a barrage of missiles that were peculiarly shaped like green onions.
        Besides the sudden gathering of several young idol performers with connections to Miku, there had been a few people who acted like apparent soundalikes, whether by choice or inhibitor interference.
        A young female bassist with long black hair, who wore a dark-grayish-blue school uniform with a blue ribbon and a pleated pale-blue skirt, appeared on Inhibitor 3's viewscreen. Mio Akiyama was usually a shy person unwilling to confront anything she deemed scary-- which was a lot of things-- until the day she retaliated against Soldier. The crazed blue-helmeted military man had reminded Mio of an embarrassing on-stage incident that popularized her all those years ago. But at that moment, Mio's demeanour was that of a particular vampire-ninja whose personality was of an opposite to her own.
        "No, you damn insect!"
        With that declaration, Mio thrust her leg against Soldier.
        The screen jumped to another piece of surviving footage from that fateful day in 2011. It showed a female keyboardist, with long blonde hair and thick semicircular eyebrows, who wore the same outfit. On that day, Tsumugi Kotobuki, otherwise known as Mugi, found herself discussing something she saw to Heavy, a member of Engineer's team. The voice Mugi spoke in was as soft and sweet, but wasn't exactly her own voice.
        "I... saw the end of the world."
        "I do not understand," said Heavy.
        Mugi took a quick breath. "I was so scared, I needed to be alone."
        "This is true?"
        "So I tried to run away from here."
        Engineer noted that Mugi sounded a lot like the pink-haired Serah Farron that day, just before another signal scramble sounded over the inhibitor.
        Inhibitor 3 showed Yutaka, as her regular pink-haired self, also giving Soldier a piece of her mind. She'd cursed him out in an alien language right after he insulted Demoman.
        "You are a..." Yutaka threw her arms back and angrily glared at Soldier. "...a clorbag varblernelk!"
        "Boo..." Soldier called weakly.
        The screen was briefly garbled into pixels, and the recorded scramble nearly drowned out Soldier.
        Yutaka looked at Demoman and put her closed hands to her chest. "I'm so worried," she told him, in a voice that seemed closer to her own, but still wasn't hers.
        Whether Yutaka had mimicked the voices she was given back then or actually had another personality inside her remained unclear all these years later. It was anybody's guess as to the true nature of the inhibitors' influence that day.
        "Ok, with that out of the way, let's talk about team members."
        The Fugitive's next command startled Engineer out of the old "CODE RED" mission and back into the new team meeting.
        Madoka, Homura, and Spy, who had been watching Engineer at Inhibitor 3, saw him turn around to face them and the rest of the group. Then, they returned their attention to the primary inhibitor's viewscreen as the unseen commander continued to broadcast his voice through it.
        "First of all, we got Mami Tomoe's friend here, Nagisa Momoe."
        "Sweet," commented FemScout.
        Even before Nagisa's name was called over the primary inhibitor, the silvery-white-haired girl in the disjointed outfit stepped toward the machine.
        "Bebe," prompted Mami.
        Nagisa nodded and turned around to face the group. It was like she had been called up to stand in front of a classroom. Then, as if by habit, she bowed to the others in greeting and waved excitedly.
        But she hesitantly let her hand drop down as she suddenly remembered a voice....
        "Have you ever had nightmares about... turning into a form where you're a gi-giant worm and then you suddenly turn on your mentor Mami Tomoe here? Have-- Nagisa, have you ever had nightmares like that?"
        That voice sounded like the one being transmitted through the inhibitor's comm systems who took over the introductory duties and sounded just as hesitant, too: "Ok, uh... Nagisa here's been with Mami Tomoe for... I think about a year or one-and-a-half years."
        Madoka suddenly recounted a detail to Mami. "I remember the day I met you, and there was Bebe, tagging along and being adorable."
        "Yeah," agreed Scout. Even he remembered seeing some of the magical girls together with the silvery-haired girl.
        Mami nodded and began to explain to the others, though she focused most of her attention toward the silvery-blonde woman beside her. Homura and Madoka subtly nodded a few times, almost as if she heard her speech before.
        "Bebe has been my friend for a long time," said Mami. "I actually met her before I met Ms. Kaname and Ms. Miki."
        "Ms. Miki? Sayaka..." the Fugitive remembered. "Sorry, can someone go check up on Sayaka and make sure she's all right?"
        The second-Homura leaned in towards the inhibitor viewscreen and gestured to herself, almost startling Nagisa. "Yeah. Me," the doppelganger offered.
        "Okay, but... I think you-- maybe you should come up with a nickname, too," suggested the Fugitive. "I mean, for yourself, because having two of you here is kinda--"
        "You will get no name from me," asserted the second-Homura before she turned her shield and vanished.
        "Don't know why I brought that up," muttered the Fugitive. "Yeah, Mami Tomoe, you can go ahead now."
        Mami gestured toward Nagisa and continued. "I believe that without Bebe, I would have given up long ago."
        There was a pause.
        "Hmm... Yeah, I kinda understand what you mean," said the Fugitive. "But, you know, i-if this Nagisa here--"
        "If Bebe does want to help us fight the Opposition, we could use a real cruncher like her on our side."
        Mami's mouth shot open in a silent gasp.
        "At least it's better than being a frigging runaway," concluded the Fugitive.
        Homura shot the viewscreen a stern glare.
        Nagisa turned and faced the screen as well, and took another bow in greeting. She began to plead for the unseen commander's trust. "I'm sorry I didn't say anything until now. But I need you to calm down and listen to me."
        Meanwhile, just behind the primary inhibitor sat the female sharpshooter who had been listening to the team's conversation inside the inhibitor room the whole time. She still wanted to look up a few more things on the inhibitors. The blue-haired woman turned her head to the side for a moment and remained on the ground for the team to finish their meeting.
        Her introduction to the infamous Resurrection Movement could wait.


*   *   *

        Back at the BLU Team freight base, Sayaka restlessly monitored the comatose bodies of Kyoko and Black Gold Saw while sitting on the ground. Though her eyes were half-open, she kept away from the Soul Gem that Kyoko had dropped, wanting to avoid another electric shock from it. Sayaka then checked the half-finished Pocky box she left in her friend's open hand that was right next to her.
        Just then, she saw a young woman, with a head of thick long blonde hair and a big black spiky crown on top, who skated into the area on a pair of large circular-bladed wheels. Sayaka remembered seeing the woman known as Chariot a few times in the past, usually alongside a red-ponytailed idol performer.
        This time, though, Chariot was travelling by herself. Upon catching sight of Sayaka, her cold gaze seemed to soften as she waved at her with a claw-gloved hand. As steadily as she could, Chariot then began to go down onto her knees one at a time in order to pick up Black Gold Saw.
        Sayaka then looked past Chariot and noticed that the both of them weren't the only ones alive in the area.
        "I'm gonna go ahead and declare this the day you learn that I'm always right," declared Stocking. After glancing at the chocolate cornet she held in her hand, she caught sight of the Pocky box in Kyoko's hand. Stocking's mouth burst open in a smile as she began to rush towards the comatose magical girl.
        But Chariot, carrying the comatose Black Gold Saw on her back, quickly skated to a halt in front of Stocking and blocked her way.
        Stocking's smile faded. "Why you gotta be all up on my nutsack anyway?"
        Sayaka looked over and replied, "Either you've got a lot of guts, or you're super dumb."
        "Talk about your limp excuses. You don't want to fight because you know we'd own you."
        The second-Homura appeared beside Stocking and raised an overly-accurate shotgun that belonged to the fourth Opposition Member. "Shut up!" ordered the doppelganger, who sounded more tense than usual. She then briskly turned her head toward Sayaka and called out to her. "We're leaving!"
        "Geez, Homura!" groaned Sayaka. "Quit being so stubborn. Chill out, already!" Feeling rushed, Sayaka hastily pulled Kyoko by her closed fist, rolling her onto her side. Then Sayaka pulled open Kyoko's fingers and wrapped them around the Soul Gem.
        As the second-Homura shoved the shotgun back into her shield, she saw Sayaka grab Kyoko's upper arm with her left hand, and hold out her right. The doppelganger then crouched onto her knees and hesitantly let Sayaka grab onto her left arm as she turned her shield on its axis.
        Sayaka, the second-Homura, and the comatose Kyoko disappeared from the area along with the Soul Gem and the Pocky box.
        Stocking grimaced upon seeing that people have vanished in front of her again. She then remembered the blondie in front of her and tried to arm herself with her striped katana.
        Chariot kicked Stocking with a bladed wheel, knocking the Hostile leader onto her bottom, before regaining her balance and skating away with Black Gold Saw.
        "Who still falls for that bullsh*t?" Stocking muttered to herself. She picked up the chocolate cornet she dropped and took a bite.


*   *   *

        At Drogentote Medical, Yutaka was still in the pink attire and the mixed yellow-and-blue hair that the inhibitor corruption gave her. She looked to her right, nodded her head, and walked away from the building entrance, leaving the comatose Medic still sprawled in front.
        Spy appeared at the entrance after turning off his invisibility cloak with a flick of his watch-mounted wrist. He looked around to see if the area was clear and then proceeded toward the entrance. As the double doors slid open, a labcoated woman with reddish-brown hair who was wearing a white shirt, a red necktie, and black shorts stepped into view.
        And nearly choked on the burning smoke fumes just outside the entrance.
        "Merde," cursed Spy.
        The woman, Kurisu Makise, managed to recover, although her flushed face unintentionally held one eye closed for a second before she quickly blinked both eyes a few times. Kurisu casually breathed a loud interrupted laugh as she waved at Spy.
        Spy's stare at Medic on the ground, though, soon led the labcoated woman to do the same. It almost looked like nothing would have happened to Medic if that electric bullet hadn't made its mark.
        Soon, Medic's comatose body was straightened out in the crude operating room where he last worked hours ago. Spy and Kurisu managed to make some room among the other comrades who've fallen to headshot-induced comas.
        Spy looked around the room at the other mercs of the Codename Fortress division who were being kept on life support by the mediguns that Medic used in his line of work. The four standard models, two of which looked nearly identical, were in use on Heavy, Sniper, Pyro, and Demoman. A fifth model, built out of crudely-rearranged Sentry and Dispenser parts, seemed to strangely work on the blue-uniformed Soldier.
        Kurisu happened to dig out a few more mediguns that had been left dormant. One of them had three smaller emitters that projected a combined beam. Kurisu aimed that device at Medic and locked the lever in place.
        "I love to experiment," Kurisu conferred solemnly. "I always need to be testing or confirming something."
        "Naturally," assumed Spy.
        Suddenly, the faint buzz of a cell phone went off. Kurisu reached into her shirt pocket and pulled out a red flip-phone.
        "Hello?" she answered.
        A tall thin man with short black hair, who wore a labcoat of his own, was calling from inside Office Building 52375.
        "Hououin Kyouma speaking!" he declared.
        "Hououin--? Oh, it's you, Okabe," recalled Kurisu. There was only one man who went by that nickname: Rintaro Okabe, the self-proclaimed "mad scientist" who always treated her like an assistant he could order around... not that Kurisu liked it or anything.
        Rintaro laughed.
        "What is it?" asked Kurisu.
        But then, a blonde-haired man in a purple coat began to interrupt, with his voice getting picked up over the phone. He declared with a heavy French accent, "Dammit, don't they know who I am? I am the world-renowned France!"
        Rintaro lowered his phone, but not by too much. "That is not what this is about!" he growled.
        "Come on! I'm amazingly strong, and don't you forget it!"
        "Allow me to shatter the candy-coated bubble of naivete around you."
        France was unfazed. He suddenly burst into laughter, causing Rintaro to frown at him.
        Kurisu lowered her phone and also frowned at it, having heard the accented-laughter through the call.
        Meanwhile, Spy had crept over to Soldier's unconscious body and pulled out a device that the helmeted man had on him. The device, a Reanimator built by Medic and Engineer, was quietly projecting a red hologram of Soldier.
        Spy began to have a mischievous grin on his face. He engaged his watch, and the invisibility cloak concealed him and the Reanimator device he carried.
        Unaware of what happened behind her, Kurisu raised her phone to her ear and heard the tail end of the conversation between Rintaro and France after the accented-laughter finally stopped.
        France proclaimed, "Oh! Guess who just captured us a little--"
        "There is no way that's a compliment!" interjected Rintaro.
        "You need to get into the spirit of things!"
        Rintaro raised his phone and quickly spoke into it. "Never mind all that. What-- what were you saying?"
        "What do you mean?" replied Kurisu.
        In the main entrance area, Spy, no longer invisible, shoved the Reanimator he stole under one of the parked ambulances with some difficulty. He watched the entrance's double doors slide open as Sayaka walked in and laid Kyoko onto the ground. The blue-haired girl again knelt beside her fallen red-haired friend who still had a grip on her Soul Gem and the Pocky box.
        Sayaka spoke softly. "The truth is... when I found out about this assignment, I jumped at the chance to come back. 'Cause in the end, I did have one regret: You. I missed you."
        Spy gave Sayaka another quiet moment before he spoke to her.
        "Shall we?" He pointed at the bloodstained door that led to the waiting area and its nearly-crowded operating room.
        Kurisu had already finished her phone call when Kyoko's comatose body was dragged inside. She prepped another Medigun to use on Kyoko, though Sayaka wanted to lock its lever in the forward position. Kurisu let her do so, and then pressed a button on the PDA that Medic borrowed from Engineer.
        The signal scramble locked onto the voice of the Resurrection Movement's unseen commander who was in the middle of a conversation.
        "...I let you go back into races just so the others wouldn't think you went Turbo."
        Kurisu's gasp drowned out any reaction she would have otherwise heard. As the PDA broadcast the Fugitive's voice into the operating room, Spy and Sayaka stood up and focused their attention toward it.
        "Do you even know how long we were waiting for you?" asked the Fugitive.
        "Aww, sorry about that, chief." It was the voice of a particular kart-racing girl.
        "Good. I-it's all right, Vanellope."
        Vanellope looked like her regular short self, taking the call from inside the Sugar Rush castle's throne room. She was in her usual mint-green hoodie and brown paper-cup skirt, and had the usual candy pieces in her black hair that was tied in a ponytail by a red licorice ribbon. However, she held a pink lollipop mini-staff in one hand, and a working custom-made mobile phone with a gingerbread-like covering in the other.
        "Look, we're gonna need your help again," continued the Fugitive, "but be careful. There's a Hostile named Stocking who loves to cuss people out just as much as gobbling up the kinds of sweet stuff that you love."
        "Oh, barf!" reacted Vanellope.
        "If you can help us take her down, then we'll only have the Opposition and the Time Police to worry about. But as long as you're with us, the Time Police won't be looking for you."
        "I accept your challenge and will strive to be worthy of it. That's fancy president talk."
        "Still, they did kidnap three people. I seriously hope they're not looking for you."
        Spy, Sayaka, and Kurisu looked at one another as the Fugitive ended his call to Vanellope and concluded the team meeting they were eavesdropping on.
        "All right, team. I'll have a look at what Engineer filmed. And... yeah, I think that should be it for now. Thank you, all of you."        
        Secretly, the second-Homura, who followed Spy and Sayaka into the hospital, stood outside the operating room doors and had listened to the call the whole time. What she couldn't understand, though, was what Sayaka suddenly giggled about.
        Sayaka had turned Kyoko's head to the side and moved one of her hands so that the Pocky box was right next to her mouth. To Sayaka, it looked like Kyoko was about to empty the box into her mouth, and she couldn't help laughing at that. But with a loud breath, she shut herself up and wiped her eye as her eyebrows drooped and her mouth closed into a solemn smile.




Chapter 3 >