■ Black and White
In this seemingly uninhabited place, the sound of sandpaper rasping against itself echoes in eternal darkness. Within the sound, reminiscent of static, whispers play out like a broken record.
You are the worst failure of all testaments from Project F
Come, join me and I will fix all the mistakes
You are just like one of us – why are you against the Doctor?
Nothing but a mirror image of Alicia…
Even with her memories you can never replace my dearest daughter
A girl slowly awakens at the end of those words, though they were just from a dream, it couldn’t have felt more real to her. For a while longer she lays there, the blurriness of vision clearing as she identifies her surroundings. The familiar fragrance of the room brushes passed her. It comes to her, the newly repaired dormitory of Sector Six. She quickly runs a hand through her hair as she looks out the window. Raindrops carelessly hit the glass, but within their irregularity she hears a simple rhythm. Realizing or perhaps hoping it hadn’t been true, the rain had awoken her from that nightmare. She pulls her eyes away from the small details she normally enjoys, and focuses on the dull gray ceiling.
“Two months have passed and I still can’t shake off that feeling…” The girl recalls the incident of Jail Scaglietti. No one is there to hear but herself. “Guess it still reminds me of ‘them’.”
This type of dream has happened too frequently, lately. The voices call out to her. Once she had called them ‘nightmares.’ Now they were merely a source of frustration. Tiredly, she turns herself around to check the scarlet numbers projected by the clock.
Her sigh is full of dread as she pulls up the sheets to cover her bare shoulders. It isn’t a good time to be awake. She should be asleep, dreaming, but she knows for her it might be a while before she welcomes sleep again.
Distant footsteps come closer by the second. And without warning…
“Fate mama!!” A pair of dissimilar-colored eyes smiles at the blond, her arms wrapped tightly around her godmother’s waist, and she bounces playfully on her lap. Fate’s surprise faded immediately, leaving behind a feeling of calm. Knowing the coffee in her hand might spill on the little girl, she pulls it away from her lips, revealing a smile.
She couldn’t fault the innocent face now buried in her clothing, but it didn’t stop Fate from lecturing. “Vivio, you need to be careful next time. I wouldn’t want you to get hurt.” Despite the scold, the gentleness of her tone took the bite from her words.
Suddenly the weight of the document in her other hand disappears. Fate’s gaze rises slowly, only to meet a face full of disappointment. A young woman of the same age as Fate stands there, having appeared before Fate could take her attention away from the playful child. The young woman, familiar with the papers now in her hand, narrows her sapphire eyes. Then she pushes the stack back in front of Fate’s helpless expression, waving it irritatedly.
“Fate-chan, you need to take a break. It’s only the second day of your vacation and you’re already burying yourself in documents!” The sudden switch of roles leaves Fate speechless, and she can only answer with a strained smile. But then she takes use of the moment of ensuing silence, determined to speak her mind, preparing for the worst.
“I’m sorry Nanoha, I was just wondering how the cyborgs are doing in their cells.”
Upon hearing the statement, Nanoha is at a loss for words, understanding the circumstances behind Fate’s past. Glancing down at the paper, she suddenly becomes aware that Fate’s intention wasn’t monitoring what the Sector had defined in such meaningless words as “criminals” or even “killers,” but rather was merely trying to care them, like normal beings. Then she hesitates, knowing that thinking of the cyborgs reminds Fate of her own past. After all, Fate was the original Project F. Not knowing how to lighten the conversation, she doesn’t respond, but can only watch as Fate directs her attention back to Vivio, who stares them with curiosity.
“Fate mama, Nanoha mama said all three of us are going to go somewhere fun today!!” Vivio announced, with both arms in the air. As if responding to a signal, Fate picks up Vivio without thinking. “Haha, is that so? Well, then, I apologize for not remembering. How about we let Vivio pick where to go?”
A smile that couldn’t be any brighter appears on Vivio’s face. Satisfied with the result, Fate turns to face Nanoha, who is still lost in her thoughts.
This isn’t the first time this happened to Nanoha, as if her ability to comfort had vanished. The phrases running through her mind now might have been meaningful ten years ago, but now those words seem meaningless.
Fate-chan will always be Fate-chan! No matter what you are!
Such childish words, Nanoha thinks to herself, remembering back to their first meeting. Even after all these years, her ideals have remained the same. Yet no matter how great her magic powers, as unskilled in close-ranged combat as she still is, she cannot make people understand her feelings in the battlefield. This feeling, this knowledge, that her ideals have not matured, has lingered with her ever since the training event with Teana and Subaru.
“Nanoha.” The call of her name finally pulls her back to reality. “Vivio here would like her Nanoha mama to hear where she would like to go today.” Fate ignores the tension that has built up for the sake of the child in her arms. Understanding Fate’s intention, Nanoha decides to let it go and answers back with a smile. “Haha, I see! Then where did you decide to go, Vivio?” Nanoha lowers herself so she’s at Vivio’s eye level.
“I want to go to the beach!” Not, perhaps, the correct answer, as it was now mid-winter. Yet that fateful sentence perhaps influenced the world around them, because as the very words faded, a projection screen appeared above them.
“I’m sorry to cut your vacation short, Fate,” the young woman on screen apologized, “but something has occurred over at the Southeast Pacific.”
“Hayate?” Conversation stopped, both Fate and Nanoha’s attention turn to their commander. It must be urgent for Hayate to be so terse.
“An unidentified space craft warped into the sea and the Headquarters’ detector didn’t pick it up right away. They finally noticed today a wavelength being emitted from that area. They think it was attacked; the Headquarter has already sent in a rescue team, but…” Hayate’s hesitation is cut short by Fate’s reply. “It’s alright. I am in charge of investigations, after all. Just inform me on the way there.”
“Fate mama, you are not coming to the beach?” The disappointed words slip out before Fate can ask Nanoha or Vivio’s permission to be absent.
“I’m sorry, Vivio.” Setting the child down at her feet, Fate begins to depart, but stops when Nanoha grabs her sleeve.
“I’m going with…”
“No.” Without giving the slightest chance of arguing back, Fate denies her statement. “We wouldn’t want that event to happen again, do we?” Aware of what Fate was questioning, Nanoha still entreats her two friends into letting her join the mission.
“We both exhausted after the JS incident, so what difference does it make, who goes?”
“We are different, Nanoha.”
“I’m sorry Nanoha, Fate is right. You shouldn’t have to worry, though – Signum will be accompanying Fate. If worst come to worst, I will be in the front line. That’s why you should stay with Vivio, Nanoha.” It is not only as commander that Hayate assures Nanoha, but also as a friend.
“Don’t worry. I’ll be back by tonight.” With that, Fate turns and leaves the room, leaving Nanoha feeling helpless.
As under-dressed as Fate feels, the order from Hayate, her commander, was that a uniform was not needed. Looking professional in her field of work is merely part of Fate’s character – to be at one’s best, to put it that way. Now with her second in command next to her, legs crossed, arms folded in front of her chest – and not to mention fully dressed, her infamous deadly expression pointed at Fate. It would make anyone too nervous to speak, let alone begin a conversation. However, as deadly as the look seems, it hardly describes the knight’s true personality. Her observation of the young captain makes her abandon her original position. Now sitting in more relaxing pose, she begins her questions.
“Testarossa, what do you make of this situation?” The knight speaks with a profound and ancient voice. Despite her womanly figure, she has the tone of a king. Along with her compassionate works around Sector Six, it’s a shame smiles rarely appear on her face.
Perhaps their encounter ten years ago made it easier on the two to discuss combat. As Fate quickly shakes away her nervous feeling and begins to pull out the files, she regards her thoughts of the incident. “Mn. There is something interesting about this. The control bridge that is still picking up the magic energies responds to all the members, yet whoever is holding them hostage isn’t letting the team leave the ship. There must have some kind of reason for not letting others from a different world help them…” A pause delays her theory, waiting for her second in command to criticize the idea.
An expression of satisfaction appears on Fate’s sub-commander’s face. “Reading the report carefully as always I see. I’m assuming your plan of action is already set?” Young as Fate may be, her coworkers always trust her details in investigation. This time is no exception.
“This ship is sending sonic waves, jamming the communication system over the whole fleet’s network, but it’s marked as a normal traveler cruise. I also noticed the waves received by our ship are only during a certain length of time, which makes me believe they were sent by people, not a machine…though we are probably not dealing with bandits, since it’s impossible for thieves understand the technology in our world. What do you think, Signum?”
The order of action might not be what many had expected. Since what Fate had just stated was a command, however long or strangely-worded it may appear to others, in this type of situation, a friend like Signum is needed to translate the commands. “Then it’s settled. I shall go search for the survivors while you investigate the group responsible for the waves.” Taking a note of the words Fate had chosen to say, Signum is well aware of Fate’s concern for how dangerous the enemies they are dealing with could be, but handling just a few computer wiz’s would be easy work.
“Allow me to send to the files over to Meister Hayate.” With a nod of approval from Fate, Signum opens up a new submission window.
While the files begin their transferring, as if on queue, Hayate decides to open a communication screen from her side of control system to Signum. The loyal knight presses down her inquisitiveness as her first glace meets with her master’s eyes. A silent nod is all that’s needed for Signum to understand what Hayate wishes, and she moves the projection screen towards Fate.
“Hey… Fate-chan?” All formality of her authority drops as Hayate refers to Fate in the more traditional Japanese manner. “I have been wondering…” the concern in her voice reveals her anxiety, “have you been getting enough sleep lately?”
Inspecting her friend closely through the monitor, Hayate sees no major reaction from Fate. She is aware Fate knew the subject was bound to be questioned someday, so Hayate continues with her rushing words. Hoping her concerns reaches her friend. “You went to the monitor rooms to check up their condition, not to mention you don’t properly take your break time… I understand your concerns for them, but Fate-chan, you aren’t part of that investigation anymore. There was a reason I pulled you off the …”
“Sorry.” Fate quickly interrupts Hayate’s sentence with her admission.
“…team.” Fate’s admission, her apology, was said to Hayate without making eye contact. An apology Hayate had heard many times before this one – the kind that seems loose its purpose in this scenario. Realizing this matter cannot be pressed on further than it already has, as a leader, Hayate understands there are important issues at hand. A disappointing sigh is let out, Hayate decides to drops the subject, and continues her role at the post, leaving Fate with her concluding words, “Let’s talk about this when you and Signum gets back, alright, Fate-chan?”
After the communication ends, the aircraft’s cockpit once again fills with uncomfortable silence. Perhaps it isn’t a bad thing. With the files closed and the instructions finished, Fate has time to focus on more private matters. The Jail Scaglietti incident had taken a toll on the members of Sector Six, physically and emotionally. Even the aftermath, many had not fully recovered, yet to Fate it feels that lately the three friends haven’t had enough time to confront each other about their personal well-being. On the few occasions they had consulted, it ended up resulting merely in making one worry more about the others.
Whatever happened to their normal life? They are only nineteen, after all.
Stress begins to mount in the blond and her eyes start to travel. Her wandering gaze isn’t particularly searching for answers, but when it falls on her sub-commander, the possibility of chitchat to drive away the tension emerges.
“Signum, do you think I sounded too harsh? Maybe I should apologize again…”
Breaking the ice.
“Too kind, Testarossa. It is in my opinion that Meister Hayate does not wish for your apologies. And as she hoped, I, too, think you should properly rest after this mission.”
“Ahaha, everyone is saying the same thing.” Fate can’t help but laugh at the obvious. “Thanks for the clarification, Signum. I do worry my friends too much. For once, I think it’s best to drop ‘that’ subject for good.” Thanking her friend, as Fate’s once troubled face softens.
In return, the knight offers a smile.
“Hey ladies,” a sarcastic voice suddenly sounds over the intercom, “sorry to interpret your little chat there, but we are reaching our destination.” The voice is male.
“That was fast even for you, Vice.” Fate turns herself around to check their destination out in the vast ocean. It isn’t visible through the cockpit window, however. The half-sunken cruise is nowhere near their current position.
“Of course it isn’t,” Vice says matter-of-factly, “Since I wouldn’t want to jeopardize my partner here,” referring to the aircraft he is piloting, “with those sonic waves shooting around. I’ll just stay here in the distance, where the network still functions.” The plane also serves as an intelligent device like Bardiche or Raising Heart, the only difference being the other two being modeled in the form of a weapon, the other in the form of a vehicle.
The two young women shrug slightly to each other, but cannot help but chuckle at their inability to understand men and their passion for machines. While putting that subject aside, Fate and Signum set up their Barrier Jackets and fly towards the direction of the cruiser.
As they advance with high velocity, the cold air brushes against their cheeks, sending cold chills down their backs. It is truly December. Above, the dull colors paste over the sky. The clouds aren’t as pleasant as they were during summer. Yet though they may not be attractive, they do present people with the pure white icy flakes on holidays. However it is not late enough in the season for that; at this moment, the sky only grants them raging winds. Below, the sea reflects the blackness above, its mood as vicious as the howling wind. Feeling the frigid air, both girls are thankful for their Barrier Jackets in a time like this. With the speed at which they’re progressing, they might have already frozen to death.
Finally, they arrive at the scene, keeping to the skies above the ship. There isn’t anything suspicious about its exterior, though because of the static wavelength, Headquarters won’t be sending any backup until the problem is clear. All the ships and support teams are on standby, waiting for their word. Knowing their communication with Sector Six could shut down any moment, the two upper level mage quicken their movements. Reaching the point Fate had assigned before the take off, they observe the cruise, already half-way submerged in the sea. The only reason it is still visible is due to trapped air within; if they mindlessly blast a hole, the air would be released and the ship forever lost to sea.
“Yes sir,” Fate’s intelligent device answers his master. Not requiring the information of the command phrase, “Fire Photon Lancer,” Bardiche activates the suitable attack. Dozen of energy spheres appear, sending electric sparks to one another, and charge towards half sunk ship’s outer shell. The blast is small enough to create an entrance – enough for one person to get in. Fate takes the privilege of her work to enter the ship first. Signum follows.
At first sight, both think they had suddenly entered an indoor rainforest. The temperature is much higher than the cold air that’s rushing in from the gap, and small roots can be seen by the naked eye. Various plants grow, attached to the metal walls, and moisture from them has eaten away at it, leaving only rusting material behind.
Knowing she cannot fully grasp the reason for this sudden greenhouse, Fate decides it best to simply follow the plan and split up. And so, Fate flies straight towards the control bridge of this ship, leaving Signum to search for any survivors and call the rescue team.
Not long after parting with Signum, Fate notices something strange. Perhaps because the control bridge is at tip of the ship, and with the bow submerged and filled with water, it’s only natural for the plants to grow better, but there are green pollens flowing around her area. Stopping her progress towards the bridge, Fate glides down to the floor starts to examens the plants.
“Shamal, can you hear me?” The blond opens up a communication window to the leader of the team that’s the expert in this field.
“Yes, but I can barely see you. There are static all over the screen.” The mother figure of their group answers her call through the noisy screen.
“Then I’ll try to make this fast.” Fate sends the sample she collected through Bardiche during the conversation. “Do you think you can analyze those pollen for me?”
“Of course. But is there something on your mind?” Relieved that no healing aid is needed, Shamal can’t help but ask the question.
“I don’t think the plants around me are actually emitting those pollens. I think there might be more over at the…”
Before Fate can finish her thoughts, a thunderous outbreak from Sigunm’s direction cuts her sentence short.
For a while now, after the split, Signum found herself going through what seemed to be an endless stream of hallways. Before long, however, her boredom is shattered by a beam shooting from the pillars at the end, collapsing part of the hallway.
With a swift movement, the skillful warrior distance herself far from the smoke clouds that had emerged. Her sharp eyes guide her towards the shadows within the smoke. Locking onto the target, Signum charges with full speed, her high velocity quickly dispersing the clouds and making the attackers more visible. Just then, their foreign appearance becomes more recognizable, and a familiar emblem on their uniforms causes Signum to withdraw her attacks.
They are the rescue team sent by the Headquarter.
Normally the knight can handle mages at ease, but this time the enemy is neither machine nor high ranked mage. To fight fully with them and she might accidentally kill them. Strengthening her defenses, Signum has no choice but to dodge their attacks. It is ineffective, however, as they cease to assault her with blasts of energy and close in for physical, close-range combat. Unable to stop them with her power, she finds herself having no choice but to strike back, still trying to avoid damaging them as much as possible.
Need to contact Testarossa.
Backed up against a pillar, Signum starts to open communications with Fate to tell her of her findings – and three hidden soldiers behind the pillar destroy her support and fire discharges at her. Spinning herself around to face the attacks with her magic defense, she fails to notice the blasts fired from above.
A direct hit.
A scream from the distance calls out to the fallen knight, but too late. Fate watches her friend falling towards the solid ground, helpless, and in that moment, as if Fate linked her thoughts with her intelligent device, adrenaline rushes through her. Without speaking, her mind clear, she merely thinks, “Active, Sonic Move.” Bardiche enforces Fate’s command immediately.
Somehow, in a nick of time, Fate manages to successfully catch her unconscious comrade. Without a second thought, she quickly sets up Defense Plus, in case their assaulters come back for more. Guarding with Bardiche in hand, Fate cautiously senses for an enemy’s presence. The tension ceases steadily after the dust clouds clears, showing her the empty wrecked hall.
“Bardiche, how is she?” Fate asks her device, not letting her guard down.
“Sir. Second Lieutenant Signum did not receive any severe injures. She has only temporarily lost consciousness.”
Relieved by the news, the blond carefully pulls Signum’s arm around her shoulder, then put her free arm around Signum’s waist to carry her off to a safer place. Perhaps the control bridge was a good place now with the enemies now scattered.
Nearing the control bridge, Fate is stopped by her intercom activating, but she is relieved to see that her friend is able to communicate once again.
“Fate, Signum, are the two of you alright?” Hayate asks the two soldiers, her tone sounding calm and composed, almost unconcerned. “It’s taken a while for the transmission to get through.” Yet no matter her tone, her posture belayed the nervous tension she was trying to hide. Fate watches her friend closely through the communication window. Hayate had already stood from her original sitting position, both hands pressing down on the table with a pressure amplified by tense shoulders, pushing herself forward towards the screen with a better look of her two friends.
Ah, Hayate’s face is taking up the whole screen…
With both hand preoccupied at the moment, Fate can only release one of her fingers from the hand that’s holding on to Signum’s arm in order to stop her friend from starting to stress herself over her two friends and inferiors. “It’s all right, Hayate. Signum has only temporarily lost her consciousness; she should be fine.”
Realizing her friend had observed her tenseness, Hayate flashes a smile of relief. Still, she finds it displeasing to know her best knight was felled by the hands of low-ranked mages. “Stay where you are. As of now,” Hayate curses her inability to abandon her post at this moment, “only Shamal will be heading over to check on Signum.” Without permission to unlock the ranking bind from headquarters, even this rescue was now declared a suicide mission.
“Understood.” Gazing along the wreckage and charred undergrowth, the only audible sound was the slow groaning of metal as the ship rocked back and forth. Assured that this place should be safe enough, she gently lay Signum aside. With a deft movement the barrier was in place once more. It was almost surreal, watching her unconscious friend lie on the platform, as if she were only resting.
A new set of sounds suddenly appear within the unpleasant cranking made by the ship. Silently calculating the sound, Fate notices it isn’t the sound of heavy footsteps. Rather, it was light and faint. Turning towards the origin of the sound, streaks of golden locks pass through Fate’s vision at the end of the corridor.
“Hayate, I think there is a civilian!” Fate speaks, without withdrawing her gaze from the corridor.
“What?” At first, Hayate can’t wrap her mind around the words through the chaos back at Sector Six. But it only took her a second after that to realize Fate wanted to investigate immediately, on her own. “No, wait! Fate, you are NOT going to chase after it.”
“Just for a moment, please! I think it is a mere child.” Without a second thought, the blonde dashes through the barrier at lighting speed.
Watching the video transmitting from Fate’s com link, Hayate cannot help but want to rub her hand through her hair in exasperation – or perhaps a scream would do the job better. She wondered how it was she was the most logical one in a fight, while her best friend seemed to like mindlessly rampaging through the battle field. Correction. In this case, not just one but two of her friends like to do so, it seems. Biting her tongue, Hayate waits closely for Fate’s respond.
That was not what she wanted to hear. In a panic, the commander abandon her position’s speech, could only scream out to her friend.
“Fate, please come back to the base immediately!”
Once more, a wave of sonic energy pulses from the ship. Monitors a moment ago submitting images suddenly start to fizz with static and shut down. “Fate! Can you hear me?? Fate-chan!!” Not daring to lose her friend, to drop the transmission, Hayate immediately asks if her connection to Fate can be sheltered from the wave. The reply isn’t a merry one.
She turns back to the screen, heart rushing, and suddenly everything seems to stop for her. All she can see in the small screen is Fate’s petrified face, eyes wide with disbelief, fear, hope. Before she can ask Fate what happened, her friend’s mouth moves, voicing words Hayate never expected to hear just before the screen turns black.
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