Chapter 3

        After getting up from behind the primary mental inhibitor, the blue-haired sharpshooter checked that the coast was clear before she went around to the front of the prism-shaped machine. She focused her sharp gaze at the rectangular viewscreen on the machine.
        "I can do this," she muttered.
        The young woman hesitantly gave its frontal column a tap with her finger.
        The primary inhibitor activated once more. Its viewscreen displayed the text "Inhibitor 1 - primary". Suddenly, an electronic garbled screech sounded as the screen lit up with a pixellated dissolve.
        The screen showed live footage of the blonde-haired girl who the sharpshooter caught a glimpse a few weeks ago; the one she saw talking about a missing sword with a purple-haired girl and some other people at the time. Asuna, who had just stepped back out of the BLU Industries building with her poster in hand, happened to notice someone in front of her.
        A girl with long dark-blue hair stepped into view, wearing a blue-vested and plaid-skirted school uniform. The red-and-blue-striped ribbon on her shirt barely came into view, but just as she crouched to take a better look at Asuna's "Missing: Lambent Light" poster, the screen pixellated and went blank.
        An electronic garble rang out that was twice as long as the one from before.
        "Don't do this now," the sharpshooter muttered to the inhibitor machine as she slapped her hand on the frontal column.
        The inhibitor roared back to life, but its screen showed another person instead. Or rather, more than one person; an entire group was together.
        A girl with vibrant purple hair and a bright yellow bow on top was the first to talk. "Yeah, but I barely made it."
        Another girl whose hair had more of a silver-lavender shade replied softly, "Understood." She then silently looked around the area.
        Aside from the two girls, there was a woman with shoulder-length black hair and a nearly-stern facial expression who was too-closely admiring two others: a teenage magenta-haired girl wearing the floppy white ears-- and pair of giant dice-- of her bunny-themed costume, as well as an anthropomorphic peach-colored rabbit in an orange dress. Also standing close by were a tall mint-haired girl wearing the same school uniform as the purple-haired girl, and a blonde-haired female android whose ears seemed to be of a triangular design.
        Meanwhile, the inhibitor's viewscreen was showing all the group members, who were mostly standing at attention to the two co-leaders.
        The sharpshooter pointed her finger across the screen and counted with her fingers, but suddenly stopped.
        There were supposed to be eight people in that entourage, not seven. And the blue-haired sharpshooter wasn't even officially part of their group yet.
        "Oh my God, I knew it..." she gasped.
        Someone was missing.
        Someone who wore a distinct ponytail with her--
        The sudden ringtone sounded over the inhibitor machine and startled the sharpshooter. Soon afterwards, she heard the voice of a young girl that wasn't from the footage of the entourage.
        "Hello? This is Ené. Can you hear me?"
        Within the inhibitor viewscreen, the wall of color bars was shoved away by the girl, who had light-blue hair in ponytails, and wore a long-sleeved blue jacket above a black skirt. However, her black boots seemed to dissolve away into pixellation, leaving her feet invisible. Ené raised a sleeve-covered hand to her ear as if receiving a call through her headphones.
        "Now you lost me," sighed the sharpshooter. She was frustrated, though more towards the prism-shaped machine for its usual unpredictability rather than the digital girl for breaking into the machine's database and regulation stuff.
        Ené gave a brisk nod. She used her hand to yank down a square image from above her like a projector screen. It was a scan of a worn-out coastline map that was marked with hand-drawn lambda symbols. A square claw-like logo reappeared as a flashing digital marker near the top-left corner of the map.
        The sharpshooter placed a hand on her hip. "You gonna tell me what this is about?" she asked sternly. "Or are you gonna keep me in the dark?"
        Ené looked over. She suddenly gasped and pointed in front of her, prompting the sharpshooter to turn around.
        "What kind of effect will it have?" Mami asked Homura as they returned to the inhibitor room, having transformed out of their magical girl outfits. But before Homura could reply, the digital blue-haired girl called out to them from within the primary inhibitor's viewscreen.
        "Ah! I was so worried!" exclaimed Ené.
        The sharpshooter turned her head toward the machine behind her and then back at Mami and Homura to find the both of them staring at her. "Yeah, what?" she asked, confused.
        Homura simply pointed at the viewscreen, which now had Ené dragging out a photo of an old prison complex as if it were a large box.
        To the sharpshooter's surprise, Mami then put on a pair of glasses that Engineer left her from a Mini-Dispenser a few months ago. As the two magical girls approached the primary inhibitor, the sharpshooter couldn't help but raise her right hand at them... almost.
        The sharpshooter backed away to give Mami and Homura some space. Yet nobody in the area, not even Ené, noticed a young girl, in a Gothic-style dress with her pink hair in an over-the-shoulder ponytail, spying on them from a distance.
        Ené brought out another photo next to the coastline map. "I don't know what all they have," she exclaimed, "but they've got one of those things that go up and down!" She commented a little too enthusiastically; the photo was of a tall angular structure made of a dark metal with a central piston consisting of three slabs that slammed the ground.
        But all Mami and Homura were concerned about was the first photo that Ené brought out. The photo of the prison had orange rooftop signage reading "Nova Prospekt".


*   *   *


        Date indeterminable.
        The outer areas of the derelict Nova Prospekt prison had remained mostly intact through means that were of no concern to the new Time Police management. A teleportation incident had torn apart the tallest building's innards over a decade ago, throwing the entire prison into an isolation field that kept it hidden from the world outside; only the Time Police had the means to go in or out.
        On the second level of a cell block, two gasmasked officers with a muted-blue color scheme, armed with pistols, were escorting a young girl at gunpoint who was standing unsteadily. The girl, known only as Yuudachi, had a black string-like ribbon wrapped in a bow atop her light-blonde hair and wore an empty gun emplacement hanging against her hip and sets of torpedoes strapped to each of her legs. Yuudachi looked down but hesitated as she shifted her feet apart and placed her hands on her knees. A gunshot that ruptured one of the torpedoes on her legs would severely injure her, and the arresting officers had gotten too close with the shot that sent her onto her knees.
        To Yuudachi, it seemed like only a few minutes had passed since the Time Police arrested her at the outdoor fountain. But outside Nova Prospekt's isolation field, it had been over a week.
        "Poi..." sighed Yuudachi.
        "Keep moving," ordered one officer, his voice muffled through his mask's vocoder.
        "Geez, you idiots...!"
        "Watch it," warned the other officer, whose voice growled the same way.
        The worn-out locks of a nearby door failed as it was suddenly shoved open from the inside. A young woman with strawberry-blonde hair in braids, wearing a distinct outfit that had a black bodice above a long blue skirt, collapsed just outside of the pitch-black cell.
        "You, move back right now!" warned one of the officers as he pointed his pistol at the woman. He then spoke into his internal radio, "Disp, 10-31; all units, report in."
        "I liked you better when you just laid there," the woman quipped at the gasmasked officers in a voice that seemed a bit higher-pitched than usual, followed by her own usual "Wait, what?". That quick phrase marked her as Anna, a princess who was captured by the Time Police nearly three months ago. Yet inside the prison, only a few hours had passed, and Anna didn't look too much the worse for wear.
        The officer spoke to his radio once more. "Issuing malcompliant citation; cell block A7."
        "Not just yet," replied a female voice over the internal radio of both officers. "You're going to have to help that person."
        There was a pause.
        "How is that any of your business?" asked Anna.
        "Get back in there," ordered the officer who had pointed his gun. "And take your accomplice."
        The officers shoved Yuudachi over to Anna, who had stood up in time to catch her in her stumble.
        "Gotcha!" exclaimed Anna.
        Yuudachi looked over Anna for a moment and commented, "You seem kinda plain, poi."
        "Yup. I'm just your run-of-the-mill, non-magical princess."
        A small group of muted-blue officers arrived from the nearby hallway. One officer announced into his mask's radio, "In position."
        Anna and Yuudachi looked over and saw that all the officers in that group were armed with submachine guns.
        "There's so many targets to choose from, poi!" exclaimed Yuudachi, having forgotten about the danger with her torpedoes.
        "Don't you dare," cautioned Anna.
        All the officers in the cell block pointed their guns at them both.
        "Hold it right there," one of the newly-arrived officers ordered.
        "10-95; All units, close on suspects," another called in.
        "You won't get away with this," Anna warned in a low tone to the officers as she and Yuudachi backed away into the pitch-black cell, leaving the door wide open.

        In the nearby office at the second level, a woman with long orange hair, a white blouse, and a gray miniskirt looked out the window to the floor below. She raised her left hand to her head and against a hidden earpiece. The woman heard another short report.
        "Dispatch, team is holding position at cell block A7," stated an officer.
        "Okay, I understand," replied the woman. But her voice was sweet and gentle, which was unbefitting for a Commander of the Time Police. No one knew how this future Mikuru Asahina got to where she was, nor were most of the officers aware of her actual voice, but she wasn't the alleged runaway girl she'd been rumored to be for four months in the outside world.
        Asahina's gentleness didn't waver her from her task, though. She turned her head to her left and nodded to a gasmasked officer who was beside her. This Elite Officer, who had glowing yellow lenses, a hexagonal mask filter, and brown patches on his outfit, gave Asahina a clipboard with some written notes on it, which she looked over:

                    TOP PRIORITIES:
                    - Arrest designates to prevent their contact with elusive fugitive
                        * Take all prisoners alive
                    - If contact is made, engage resistance at all costs
                    - Improve personnel defense
                        * Riot shields - READY

        "Thank you," said Asahina. She and the Elite Officer looked out the office window and watched a team of field officers with gray gasmasks on the floor below. They equipped themselves with their usual stun batons and submachine guns, though some of them carried silver riot shields with a futuristic angular design.
        "Ready to go," one of the officers said.
        "Deploy unit," another one conferred.
        The team of officers vanished into a time-screw teleport, a loud blue portal that sent electrical arcs along the walls as it faded.


        A girl with a big red bow atop her long blonde hair leaned out of the brightly lit cell she was assigned to on the cellblock's first level. The girl, named Chitoge Kirisaki, had also been kidnapped by the gasmasked men and was at the prison longer than Anna.
        "H-- H-h-h-h-how--?" stammered Chitoge after she caught a glimpse of that bright flash out in the hallway.
        She blinked a few times, looked around the cellblock, and mumbled, "It makes me uncomfortable, ever since I was little, being in dark, tight places..." Chitoge's expression softened as she glanced back into her cell; at least they turned on the light for her there.
        Chitoge looked up and saw a pair of officers armed with submachine guns on the level above. She slipped back into her cell, leaving her door open, before they could see her.
        Exasperated, Chitoge sighed, "What am I thinking, anyway?!"
        Luckily for her, the officers didn't open fire into the cell. What she did hear, though, were some muffled reports.
        "Point secure, holding position."
        And she didn't want to understand a word of it.


*   *   *

        March 24, 2015.
        Engineer stepped into the messy rooms of Office Building 52375 with his antenna-mounted Frontier Justice shotgun in hand. He eyed one of the computers and decided to use it to look up what the team's opponents were up to... without that dreaded recording popping up of Sasha Braus holding a candy cane.
        But as Engineer moved towards the computer, he noticed a portable tape recorder left on the nearby counter with a retro-style headset that had a folded-up microphone. He placed down his shotgun and took off his hardhat, which had a headset fully mounted into it, before raising the retro-headset to his ear and pressing a button on the recorder. The tape played some bits and pieces of random things being taped over each other.
        Suddenly, Scout's voice was heard. "Yo, hardhat, check this out!"
        Then, the tape played the voices of two other girls who were nearby during the recording.
        "She had... tears in her eyes," declared the first voice. It was that of the girl who was physically Yutaka but undertook the personality and colors of someone else entirely.
        "Yu-chan, when you see her again, make sure you ask for her name," advised the second voice. Engineer recognized the voice of Konata Izumi, a blue-haired geeky gamer and a cousin of Yutaka.
        There was the faint sound of some notebook pages turning.
        "No way!" exclaimed Konata.
        "I can see it. I can see how much you really care for this person."
        "Of course, I figured you'd say that. You'd better be careful when you go out, Yu-chan."
        "It's... Nia!" the confused girl insisted sternly. "Are you not aware of who I am?"
        Engineer suddenly shut off the tape and bumped the spacebar on the nearby keyboard.
        A photo appeared on the monitor. It was a frame-grab of a video that had Konata examining something on a notebook while Yutaka, in her corrupted appearance, was talking.
        "Scout, much obliged," said Engineer. Just then, a detail on the image caught his eye: a sketch of a long-barreled scoped rifle on the visible page of the notebook.
        Pew pew POW!
        The explosions of a time-screw happened outside the building as a group of Time Police officers arrived, some armed with angular riot shields.
        One of the riot-shield officers called in, "Request 10-44, vacate for designate-suspect areas."
        "Yes. It was necessary to set it up like that," explained a woman whose voice seemed altered over the Time Police comms.
        Engineer heard the Time Police chatter over the radio he had in his belt pouch, but he couldn't recognize the woman's voice. Nevertheless, he put back on his hardhat headset, picked up his Frontier Justice shotgun, and headed out.
        "Ready to go," commented an officer in a group of three, one of them with a riot shield. The circular insignia and the screen on the shield faded to a bright white before the group disappeared in a time-screw.
        Another group of three officers assembled for departure.
        Engineer landed a hit on one of the officers just before the group left with a glowing riot shield.
        BANG! BANG!
        Two shots took out one of the officers from the remaining group.
        "Officer under fire, taking cover!" called in one of the gasmasked men as he hid behind his shielded partner. But just as he readied his submachine gun, a gun blast from behind sent him flying against the shield officer.
        "'Ey!" greeted Scout as his Back Scatter gun made its mark. It was the gun the Resurrection Movement used for its effectiveness against an opponent's back at close range.
        "Hell of a shot, mister!" replied Engineer as he reloaded his shotgun.
        As the remaining officer swung around to put his shield between Scout and himself, he called in, "Officer down, request all--"
        Engineer took out the shielded officer and cheered, "Whoo-wee! Makin' bacon!"
        "Free crap!" Scout chuckled as he picked up the riot shield with both hands. "Come to daddy!"
        "Nice work, pardner!"


*   *   *

        Scout had not taken his eyes off the riot shield ever since he and Engineer returned to the office to call in what happened just outside the building to their unseen commander. He had taken off his own headgear to put on the tape player and its headphones.
        "Well, it's good that you called in," asserted a relieved Fugitive, "but there's still no telling where the other gasmasked people went off to. I mean, they could be--"
        "Nah," interrupted Engineer.
        "I don't know, they could still be out there," insisted the unseen commander. "Speaking of which, it looks like some of the other teammates found a prison that might have something to do with the officers."
        "What?!" yelled Engineer. It was the first he heard of this.
        Scout looked up and saw, through the shield's transparent screen, Engineer gripping his headset's microphone with his left hand.
        "I know, right?" The Fugitive was getting tense as well. "They never said the prison had anything to do with what we're doing! I mean... Engineer, I want you and Scout to go to the inhibitor room. A video recording of The Corrupted just got in, so get Scout's audio tape here too."
        "Gotcha," replied Scout.
        Spy appeared out of his cloak to return a vintage-looking camcorder with a lever on its side. It was the camera that Sniper had used at the time of his coma, and though the camera appeared like it was from a bygone era, the insides were upgraded so it could film modern video.
        "Thank you," Spy said softly.
        "Come on, fellas!" Engineer called out. "Let's get going!"




Chapter 4 >