Author's Notes: Before you go on too far I want to explain something really quick. For those that follow my work, you know I'm writing Shift currently, but you also know it is a very long series. So as a way to hopefully keep what little of my sanity still remains I will be working on a side project. It won't be at the same pace as Shift, but I'll still be working on it. The problem comes here; I have two stories that I want to do equally and don't know which I really want to do first. So I want you to help me decide by picking your favorite of the two. Which you enjoy the most and want to see more of? Which can you not wait any longer to see what happens next? Let me know by reviewing if you can. The decision will be weighed mostly on reviews, but if needed I'll look at hits as well. Do know that I'll be doing the other one afterwards, so it is a matter of first and second not a matter of only doing one. The other story is called Twin Moon, it'll be easily found through my profile.
Thank you! I hope you enjoy the story!
Updated Author's Notes: Twin Moon has been picked as the story that I'll be writing on the side for the time being. So AESIR will be on hold more or less until Twin Moon finishes. I maybe from time to time writing more for AESIR, but at no where nearly something that would be considered consistent. For now you will have the first two episodes. Please let me know what you think. Also for those that have already read this episode I have made updates to the episode. Most of them are just further edits to fix passive voice and other errors I missed the last time editing it. There are a few additions that I did make to the episode that provide some slight impact on the story, at more as foreshadowing than anything else. I also corrected some dialogue of Air as it conflicted with her personality. So it is up to you if you wish to re-read it.
Name: Advanced Response Machine: Aesir (ARM:Aesir – ARM:AESIR)
Rating: Teen (Violence - generally not graphically detailed, crass language, light sexual situations – romance/relationships)
Complete Summary: (SPOILERS) It is the year After Nuclear 605 and the Earth is struggling to recover from a nuclear holocaust that left humanity on the verge of extinction. Shizuka, a teenage girl, is living a simple life in a far northern farming community when her village is nearly destroyed by battle between giant humanoid machines. She soon learns that she is to become pilot of one of the Earth's state-of-the-art machines called an AESIR and it is her destiny to protect the Earth from an enemy from space bent on a war of subjugation. What hope do the people of Earth have when they have not known a war for over 600 years?
* * *
The year is After Nuclear 605, a period of rebirth for the planet Earth. It has been six hundred years since the Earth was scarred by a nuclear assault that left the surface barren and radioactive. It is said that half of the world's population died immediately from the blasts and nearly everyone else in the year afterward from disease or contamination. The land was forever altered beyond hope for recovery it seemed. Human civilization was wiped from the planet.
By the grace of God or a miracle, it was Antarctica that was spared from the devastation. As temperatures fell from a thick cloud of dust in the atmosphere blocking out much of the sun, the frigid continent's harsh conditions worsened leaving the survivors to harden themselves if they were to survive. A new ice age gripped the planet.
The lone research base and experimental domed town toiled under the violent winds. A few thousand scientists and civilians began their work to rebuilding civilization. Decades slowly passed as the town grew into an ever expanding domed city that became known as Antarctica City. In their efforts they came up with a plan to reclaim the forsaken Earth.
The plan was a massive undertaking that would take generations to complete. They constructed massive machines the size of small villages fully automated sent to ravaged continents of the Earth to terraform the wastelands into fertile plains once more.
The machines succeeded in their design slowly recovering the land. In time people were allowed to leave starting new towns and villages working the land. By AN 605, half of the planet has been saved. All of the wonders and tools had come from a single organization. The HOPE group, an organization made after the nuclear winter, whose goal was to provide for the survival of mankind. They held all of the scientific minds and all new technology originated from them.
HOPE had saved the planet.
Episode 1 – The Land that had Forgotten War
South Asia near the Safety Zone
The vibration from the ship's hull was rattling through the cabin threatening to snap the bolts that anchored the series of six chairs quickly fashioned into rear compartment behind the pilot's cockpit. Components within the fuselage that were not even known to exist were pounding and groaning all around them, ceaselessly. The mechanically orchestrated symphony of chaos was the only music that attempted to drown out the warning sirens and messages that were playing in a finely irregular pattern that tempted the sanity of even the stoic.
One of the six seats stayed longingly vacant as its passenger was in the co-pilot seat in the cockpit. Its missing companion was twenty-five year old Commander Callein Tulother. His gray and purple helmet left much of his head concealed leaving only a little of his red-orange hair breaking free. While seated in the co-pilot position it did not mean he was providing aid to the pilot. All his dark green eyes did was watch the panel in front of him to provide him a sense that he was control while made obnoxiously violent that all he had was his own anxiety to grasp.
The mission alone was dangerous, but it was the procedure required to do the mission that provided the greatest threat to them. No one knew what to expect from the start. Even the scientists could only guess at what they were doing and prayed while they sounded confident in their fancy university taught tongues that left the simply minds of Callein and his team to have faith. What they were attempted had never been done before and until recent considered a taboo and forbidden. It carried more weight than plainly being unknown, for it was engrained into every child. They were entering the land of death that did nothing but steal, torture and revel in the delight of pains of others, in other words Hell.
Seemingly having a painted on smirk across his face was Rinn Ellune the only pilot in the fleet crazy enough to take on such a mission and enjoy it at the same time. To be the first man to accomplish this was enough reward for him. Yet he had to be the only one on the ship that was not unnerved by the buckling coming from the hull. It was difficult to discern whether he had some faith that the ship would hold together or he flatly was insane enough already not to care.
Wearing a gray and purple pressure suit like Callein, Rinn's right hand separated from the manual controls to push a couple of buttons on display screen. The immediate results pulled back the heat resistant panel from the main windows in the front that continued smoothly to the side. Accompanied with the barely acknowledgeable hydraulics that held fastened to the thick metal panels was an audible drop in the percussion around the entire ship.
Rinn's helmet tilted to the sides allowing him to check his space quickly as his right hand ran through entry procedures. "Shield Penetration completed, continuing atmospheric entry," said Rinn calmly through his helmet's internal headset. "Hold on to those lunches of yours!" The thrusters on the ship suddenly lit up returning the rocking to the ship with increased vigor.
* * *
A stiff wind blew through the field of corn playing the leaves against each other. In the rows spread out over several acres of land were workers toiling everyday to tend to the plants. An occasional truck would drive by the edge of the row taking in weeds removed from the paths. It kept the grounds quiet with nothing but the village of Welest for as far as the eye could see. There would not be another village or town for a day's drive. However, this was their life and leaving was not what they wanted to do. They welcomed the simply life that dirtied their hands and toughened their skin. It made each day feel alive and worth living.
The village was far enough north, meaning it was built in the last decade, that the people were emigrants from Antarctica City rather than having been born in the land. There were a few that came from other villages, but it was a place of adventure for many, whose boring slow lives had been eking out an existence surrounded by nothing but steel and plastic. It was chaotic and disordered, but it was exactly what they wanted. Sweat made them smile and breathing free open air made them want to stand up on their own legs.
It was same for her as well. A young girl bent down in the brittle earth pulling out a large weed from near the base of a stalk. She dropped it in her woven basket. That had been the last for the area and so she treated herself to a stretch by standing up lifting her arms up above her head. Even at her full height only her arms managed to clear the tops of the corn, she was only fourteen and still growing. The villagers saw her as a child still in many ways, but she still insisted on helping them not letting the word get to her.
There was still plenty of time left on the corn before it came time to harvest. Once it got too tall Shizuka would not be able to help them anymore with some of the tasks. However, she would still help them shuck the corn during the harvest season. It was then that what the village needed to live off got stored while the rest shipped off to the trading towns. There at the towns the packed it for the major ports processed before shipped back to Antarctica City where a large percentage of the population still lived relying on the imports of supplies to survive on the frozen continent. It was how life had to be, they worked for the benefit of those in sheltered domes. Most did not even think about the cycle for a moment, but it was a fact that never escaped Shizuka. It always left her with a dull aching feeling that she could not completely hide behind with the need to keep living her way of life.
Once her back and legs felt at ease she pulled herself back straight dropping her arms down. While she was standing she checked her hair tied back with a course cloth. It kept her hair off her back and folded up, left to dangle in a large loop at a third its normal length, to keep it from running along the dirt as she worked. Her hands delicately confirmed for her that it held still fastened tightly. She dusted off her brown aged canvas dress and wiped off sweat from her forehead leaving a little dirt behind on her face, a common ingredient for her skin from her appearance.
Shizuka turned her light blues eyes up to the sky catching the thick cloud cover of the late morning. It was a rare sight to see the sun that provided a pale illumination to the surface of the planet always shrouded in an endless sea of light gray to dark gray clouds. Particles from the fires of the past still hung suspended in the atmosphere preventing anyone ever forgetting or feeling completely safe. However, as she was turning away the roar of an engine from a plane alerted her to its passing. 'What's a transport doing out here at this time of year?' she thought to herself while she stared at it getting smaller. Sound and sight of the transport disappeared from her allowing her to return to her duties forgetting that it had occurred.
An hour had come to pass as the morning warmed a little more bringing it to a tepid temperature. All of the crops and plants they grew had genetically altered structures to fit a more hostile unforgiving environment than they used to grow. The land that they were using was clean and terraformed, but the clouds and atmosphere still held their reminder fighting to keep the memory alive. It was the only way they were able to produce the farms that they needed to support the growing population and not die off from consistently cool weather.
Lunch came soon providing for a break. Shizuka had finished her row and began returning to the village along the edge of the plot. There was a gap of dirt along the end of the rows before going into a thick grass that rose up to the dirt and gravel road that lead into the village. She took to the side of the road following it until she came to a tree nearby. It had not been the tree that caught her attention, but the person underneath it. 'Is Dave slacking off again?' A wrinkle around her eyes pulled down as she marched over to the tree prepared to give him a piece of her mind. However, when she came in front of the person ready to open her mouth she could see that it was a stranger. 'A foreigner?'
Reclined with his hands comfortably rested under his head for support and his eyes closed was a teenage boy, older than Shizuka. A well used brown fedora stood upon his head tilted forward slightly as though he was trying to sleep. Slowed movement, not cautious but relaxed, had stirred from the boy. It took a moment longer, but he picked up on her presence feeling the slightly darkened light around him. Keeping to his lax position and not even looking to address her he spoke out casually, "Yer blockin' the view."
"The view…" she repeated curtly. She had already been ready to deal with Dave that her emotions quickly transferred without issue. The appearance of the kid made her quickly realize that he was from the city. There was the casual attitude not caring about work or the world simply thinking that everything was ready prepared without having to lift a finger or think for one's self coming off of him. For her, that held the heart of the matter. However, she was not about to start a fight with a foreigner and turned to walk away towards the village.
The teen pulled himself up no longer able to sit still and lifted his fedora above his eyes getting an actual view. "Oh…yer a girl…" It seemed to fall out of his lips so casually as a personal note, except that he declared it aloud.
Having been mistaken for a boy stopped her legs immediately. Shizuka turned slowly around struggling with the full display of anger that she was wishing to show to the stupid boy. She ripped the tied cloth in her hair free holding the gently blowing fabric in her clinched hand. As her hair fell down a strong frigid gust broke through the area dragging her hair out to its full length wrapping partly around her. It provided an almost serpentine quality to her hair exaggerating the anger in her face. "Was it the dress or the hair that clued you in?!"
"Made 'er mad, Ed…" he said to himself under a low breath. He took a step back putting up his hands in front of his chest trying to show the girl he was not interested in a fight. "It wasn't like I'd thought ya a boy, kid!"
Shizuka narrowed her eyes a little more taking further insult to being called a kid. "All you people from the city don't have any manners."
"Manners?! Now wait a minute 'ere! Yer the one gettin' upset fer nothin'"
"Nothing?! How dare you! You're the one acting like me being a girl is a surprise. How would you like it if I did that to you?"
The young man recoiled a little having to take the time to think about her question. 'What's with this girl?' He rubbed his hand against his chin as he watched her for a moment waiting to answer her. The piercing glare of her light blue eyes was entrancing him almost as though she was penetrating his mind. "Well…I guess I wouldn't. Whatcha want from me?" It seemed that agreeing with her did not make her temper any less severe leaving him cornered.
"I want an apology!"
"Wha-but I…" There was no relenting from the girl forcing a sigh of reluctance. "…I'm sorry…"
Shizuka held her gaze at him reading him for his emotions and intention. 'That's was pretty empty sounding, but…' She was feeling less angry with the boy, though still miff with him still about the misunderstanding.
A slow catch up by him made something Shizuka had said stand out to him. It left him with a little suspicious. "How'd ya know I's from the city?"
Feeling more like herself she checked her speech having slipped up from getting so angry with the boy. "Ya stand out like a sore thumb." All she got back from him was a confused and perplexed expression that was not following what she was meaning. "Yer too clean and yer clothes are nothin' like around 'ere."
"Oh…that obvious huh?" he said as he examined his own clothes before comparing them with Shizuka's. Dirt covered her hands with smears on her face as well as old stains in her dress she had been unable to wash out. Threads were hanging loosely beginning a discordant mess at the edges of the material. Wear and tear was an understatement as it appeared to be her only dress available to her. It made him take a step back. "Well guess yer right! Name's Edgar Dubois, but ya can just say Ed." Ed began to remember his manners having forgotten to introduce himself.
Shizuka scanned him cautiously not keen on his overly familiar attitude suddenly. "Mr. Dubois, why ya out 'ere?"
Ed let his mind crawl over what he remembered from the meeting that they had had before leaving. "Well I guess the short of it is we're lookin' fer someone." He turned his head towards the village up the road in the distance thinking to himself. 'Guess Cap'n Fin's there by now…' His hand rose up to lift his fedora up as he scratched his head. "Come ta think 'bout it, yer from that village up the road, right?"
A cautious nod came from Shizuka before she spoke as she started to understand his purpose. "That's my village. Who ya lookin' for?" There was a building fear in her stomach that she could not shake. It gnawed at her insides drawing up memories she wanted to forget.
It was taking time for Ed to recover the name. 'Everyone else seemed to remember…' Names were never his strong suit and for him it was an even weirder name than he normally heard. "Well ya see…I think started with an 'S'…Sue, no…Suoka, hmm…who was that doctor guy?" He could not believe that he was forgetting something so important to his mission. 'Sheila's gonna kill me. Wonderin' off and forgettin' the mission for Dr. Kitawara.' A moment longer was all he needed before he finally remembered. "Shizuka Kitawara! Knew I'd remember if I thought hard enough."
Ed feeling pleased with himself to have recalled the name focused his eyes back towards Shizuka. "So do ya know her? She's supposed to be the daughter of our client. If I recall she's got black hair and fourteen…uh… Ya know I don't know yer name, what do I call ya?"
Shizuka did not like how friendly Edgar was getting with her. He extended a hand out to her leaving her a little cautious of his motives. "Hiraoka…Miss Hiraoka," she said reluctantly shaking his hand.
A bit of a frown transitioned across his face hearing how cold she was still being to him. "Ya have a first name right? Ya don't need to be so formal! We're just a coupla teenagers." He tried to smooth things over with her, but it broadcasted strong enough that she was not going to play along with him. "Ya can call me Ed, alright?" he said making another attempt to make things casual.
"What are ya plannin' on doin' with 'er?"
"We're just supposed to take 'er back to 'er dad. Dunno what happens afterwards."
"I see…'fraid she doesn't sound familiar, Mr. Dubois." Shizuka turned away from him quickly stepping away from the tree back towards the fields of corn. She had heard enough from him.
Ed paused for a moment feeling like he was missing something, but then jumped down grabbing Shizuka by the arm. "Hey wait! Aren'tcha gonna back to the village? Maybe someone there knows more!"
She quickly snapped back around glaring at him venomously making him back off. "Don't touch me!" Once Shizuka finished she rotated on her feet and entered the row of corn quietly disappearing amongst the plants.
"Didn't answer my question…" said Edgar softly no longer able to see Shizuka. He readjusted his fedora once more feeling frustrated that he came to a dead end. After a moment his eyes panned over to the village in the distance answering for him what his next course would be. 'Strange girl…are all the people outside of the city like that?' He remembered that his time off the ship stayed limited to port security most times or more developed parts of the world. The thought bothered him as his first impression.
Forced to go back empty handed did not make him feel good, but he had little choice as he began walking the dirt road. He kicked a small stone out of the way as he slowly made his way to the village.
Shizuka came to rest once she was deep enough into the field that no one would see her. Lunch would be coming soon meaning that the grounds would be empty for the time, but she could not help but feel nervous as she carefully sat down. Her mind raced with questions from what she had gathered from the city kid. 'So father's come looking for me, huh? It's been six years. He was probably so busy with his work that he just now realized that I was missing. Why's he looking for me anyway? It's not like I need him now. But it looks like I'm going to have to leave Welest…'
Antarctica – Antarctica City – H.O.P.E. Headquarters
An abandoned chair lazily waited for its owner. It had been a long time since the office chair felt occupied. Resting in a large darkened room, the room came filled with computers and displays all quietly humming away an even content tune. There was only enough lighting to make out silhouettes marking it for its disuse. However, annoyed with disuse for so long it seemed a sole monitor screen was on with pinging noise coming out of it that barely reached to the half ajar door of the room.
This was the secondary military command center for H.O.P.E. meant for use as a back-up if the main ever took damage or in need of maintenance. However, in the time of peaceful calm that the Earth had known for centuries neither received use. The worst that they had to combat was terrorist attacks as infrequent as they were. Of course, the rooms received regular maintenance and cleaning, but need for them never arose.
It was the task of the officer of the watch to make visits to either room to check, but most ignored the room only making a single visit a day and not the hourly expected of them. There had never been a need for them, so most soldiers did not even know about the place. No one expected that they would be needed, however today proved them wrong as a day that everything changed forever. The station with the noise playing in discordant tune against the constant electrical melody was the monitoring station. It alerted the operator to unknown objects entering the atmosphere, an act that it had been repeating without end for an hour.
Peace had come from an unlikely source. Passing through the hall were three soldiers with plans for lunch. The soldier on the right raised up his arm having thought that he heard something. Confused and a little bothered they kept talking until he stopped them once more no longer uncertain. "There's a sound, can't you hear it?"
"No, I can't hear anything," the man replied quickly before even listening. "There's nothing down here."
"It's probably just some tech doing work," the third soldier piped in.
The first soldier did not let their doubt get to him as he walked forward hearing it a little more clearly than before. Once he reached the ajar door there was no question left as he motioned the others over. "It's coming from here."
"Hey, what do you think you're doing?" said the soldier. He turned to look at the panel on the wall that titled the room. "We aren't allowed in this room. Only officers, cleaning crew and messengers."
He pushed the door open completely getting a full effect from the alert and the single lit monitor in the darkened room. "There's something wrong. If we don't find out what it is and report it. We'll be in trouble for negligence. There's cameras everywhere."
"But it's probably just a malfunction in the system."
The soldier pressed on into the room ignoring his comrades' excuses. He stumbled slowly through the maze of chairs left unattended to reach the monitor that was flashing. It required a trained person to understand it, but there was something on screen that stood out. "Get the CO on the line now! There's an unknown transport that entered through the atmosphere!"
"How's that possible? Nothing's been through the atmosphere in centuries!"
H.O.P.E. Hanger Bay
A loud alarm blared through the large hanger bay causing dozens of mechanics to scramble around the floor. Such activity came as unfamiliar since the last emergency practice drills. However, the alarm that sounded currently was no drill. It was the real thing and it had left a thick air of panic for everyone to take in. Accompanying the alarm was an announcement by the commanding officer currently scheduled during this lax period.
"Prepare transport for immediate launch with surveillance equipment! Load AESIR Unit 3 Skadi on to the transport! I repeat!" The man's voice came over with a poorly disguised frantic and nervous nature. None of the regular command staff was present leaving the facility severely unprepared.
The work crews ran about prepping the plane and moving it to the bay doors as drivers hauled Skadi on a large truck lining it up. "E-Type equipment!" shouted the foreman directing men. There were different names for the equipment depending on the request, but the order from the officer had thrown everyone off leaving some of the new people taking the wrong gear to the plane. They lost time from so many mistakes.
Walking up quietly with an empty expression that seemed almost inhuman was young girl wearing a pilot suit. She held her helmet at her side by the lower face guard. The suit and helmet held the same green motif of medium green for a base with a darker green along the shoulders and sleeves with the top of the helmet down the back also dark green. She stepped out on to the moving platform that slid the plane into place.
"Air!" a man's voice shouted over the noise out to the girl. Aerona, or Air, tilted her head over shoulder while pausing in step. "Keep your line open! I'll be in the com monitoring the situation. So don't go out until I give you the word!"
"Understood," Air said before continuing towards the plane's side door. She saw through the opening the truck drawing up into the cargo bay of the plane. Inside the transport she took a seat along the side waiting until clearance to launch.
"Launch gate opening!" informed the commanding officer over the communication speakers. "Track 013 has been aligned!"
The engines on the plane roared to life creating a wash of thunder through the hanger as everyone watched from the side. Soon the transport began to move planted on a metal plate. Using the force of the engines to propel forward the metal plate slid along the wheels underneath pushing the plane into the track. It quickly began to pick up speed through the track building lift as it reached the end bursting out at an angle that met with the surface above. Out of visible sight of Antarctica City the plane left from its underground runway with its target in South Asia.
South Asia – Village of Welest
No longer the usual quiet village, Welest's small populace of three hundred gossiped and watched the visitors that they had. It was uncommon to receive anyone when it was not harvest time and even stranger when it was not about immigration into the mainland. Most had kept away feeling uneasy by the presence of the strangers and the questions that they asked. Since most of the villages had remained out of sight it meant that the mayor of Welest stepped out to speak with the strangers.
The leader of the strangers and the mayor talked inside the mayor's home for quite some time. The rest of the group hovered around the center of the village taking advantage of the location to speak to anyone that passed them. While uneasy, the villagers were friendly and answered their questions the best that they could. It would always be the same series of questions inquiring about a teenage girl in the village, but never fit the description provided. Obvious frustration among some of the less even tempered strangers started to surface after having the same dead ends for thirty minutes of trying.
A man in his twenties with a rough hair cut and sloppy clothes kicked a wood pale a few feet. He turned towards a woman calmly sitting on the edge the stone well. "Come on Sheila! We know their lyin' and hidin' the girl! Let's just start knocken' down doors until we find her!"
The woman turned her gaze up through her long light brown bangs that immediately changed the man's mood. "Don't make me send ya back to the ship, Nate!"
Nate took another step back away from Sheila going around to the other side of the well staring off into the distant folding his arms up. A heavy annoyed sigh came from his mouth, but there were no more arguments from him. As he looked around to keep himself from getting bored he noticed Ed come up the main road. Once Ed rejoined them close enough not to be yelling Nate shot out a mocking tone. "Got lost following the road, Ed? It's a wonder ya can even fly the ship!"
"I didn't get lost, Nate! I just got…distracted…" he replied softly near the end trying to not to have Sheila hear. However, heard or not she marched over to him and punched him in the face. It was hard enough to knock him back, but not do much other than leave a red mark. The intention was not to cause harm, but as a discipline action. "…Shelia! What ya punch me for?"
Sheila glared down at Ed when he stepped back even with her. "Yer s'pposed to be workin'! And whadda I hear from ya?"
"Did Cap'n Fin or any of ya find Shizuka?" Ed asked not having his thoughts interrupted by Sheila's tirade.
She sighed to herself. A quick turn of her head towards the mayor's house and finding no activity gave her the answer. "No…none of the villagers claim to know the girl. And the Cap'n's been with the mayor fer half an hour now."
"The girl I met said the same thing to me."
Nate pulled up behind Ed heavily dropping his arm around his shoulder. "Got lost 'cause of some girl huh, kid?" There was a sleazy grin building on his lips as he looked down at Ed.
Sheila did not take to Nate's tone as she pushed him off Ed. "If ya got time to screw around, ya got time to talk to the villagers! We ain't gettin' paid until we find the girl!" She looked over at Ed trying to get him to shape up and take the job seriously. Her arm came up pointing a finger at him. "This might be ya last assignment with us, but that doesn't mean ya can get lazy, Ed!"
"Oh good, everyone's here!" said Captain Fin from behind Sheila still walking towards everyone. The mayor was not present with him, but he carried a look that said he had a plan. Sheila motioned and moved the rest of the team together ready to receive orders. He scanned everyone quickly getting a read on the situation before he spoke. "I'm takin' it that you haven't found her…" There were some forced nods trying to minimize their failure. "Well it seems we've been goin' about this the wrong way."
"Cap'n?" Nate said speaking for everyone's confusion.
"Seems that our info it's a little outdated. I guess it's to be expected when we're workin' from six year old data. The Mayor gave me the same stuff you've probably been hearing, but we were able to trace things back. He was able to confirm for me that there was a young girl here six years ago. However, the girl has blonde, not black hair and goes by the name of Shizuka Hiraoka. Now that we know this we should have more success in speakin' with the villagers and locatin' the girl."
It took a moment to sink into Ed's head, but the name that Fin mentioned was familiar to him. A blurry image of the girl he met out by the tree came to him. "…ah crap…" groaned Ed lowly trying not to get anyone's attention. However, Sheila's hearing was too perfect and she immediately narrowed in on his uneasiness.
"What's wrong, Ed?" Sheila barked sternly expecting a quick reply.
Pressure not helping, Ed took a sheepish step back seeing the focus drawn to him. "Well ya see…I think I sorta met her already…"
"What?!" Sheila leaned in grabbing Ed by his clothes bringing him even closer to her face.
"Woah! Hey Sheila! I didn't know it was 'er when I was talkin' to 'er!"
"Ya talked to her? Did ya tell her about why we're here?"
Ed turned head away from Sheila for a moment not wanting to see the anger that was building on her face. "Yeah…I thought she could help me find the girl! I didn't know it was 'er!"
Sheila looked over to the Captain checking to see his reaction. She saw what she needed turning back to Ed. "Yer goin' back to where ya found her, Ed! And we're going to hope that she hasn't gotten too far from here!"
Captain Fin stepped forward looking to add to what Sheila had said. "Go with him Sheila. Nate, get the truck ready. We'll check the road and try to get ahead of her, but considerin' the only direction she wouldn't have gone is north we have a lot of ground to cover." Nate was already gone before Fin finished making for the edge of the village where they had parked. Sheila and Ed rushed off behind him after the Captain finished.
Edgar took the lead forced to retrace his steps back to the tree. They kept to the edge of the row of corn quickly checking the between each as they went along. 'I can't believe it! She was playin' from the start just to get info!' The realization made him stumble a step before he recovered pressing his feet.
* * *
The tree and surrounding crop were all empty in a quick search. It seemed like a long shot that she would still be in the same area. There were no sounds coming from anywhere apart from the wind blowing through tapping the plants lightly. It did not feel like anyone was in the whole field leaving Ed with an unsettled feeling.
Sheila stepped into the row a little and shouted out into the corn. "Shizuka! We know you're here!"
Ed quickly leapt forward grabbing at Sheila's arm to get her to stop quickly. "What the hell ya think yer doin' alertin' her to us?!"
She snapped her arm back before looking on at him. "I expect one of three things to happen. One she panics and holds her position givin' us time to find her. Two she runs makin' enough noise for us to track her. Three she's not even here and it won't matter." Once she finished explaining herself to Ed she stepped forward beginning her march through the fields calling out Shizuka's name at infrequent intervals.
Grudgingly agreeing with Sheila Ed followed her strategy and took up a distance in sight of Sheila still but far enough away to provide search coverage. He kept his ears alert for any noise that he heard that might signal him to Shizuka's location.
Undetected, for the moment, Shizuka tried to move out of the corn, but it went on forever it seemed as anxiety mounted for her. She had not seen any strangers in the field leaving her to question if she was safe. However, knowing that there was someone looking for her had her asking herself if she could be safe anywhere. Caution was all she had with her. It was not enough for her as a noise in the distance began to alert her. Through the tops of the rows she narrowly searched finding that it was Ed the boy she had met earlier. 'Guess they figured it out…better move quickly.'
"Shouldn't ya be havin' lunch?" a voice from behind Shizuka asked rhetorically.
Shizuka fell over into the dirt as she turned startled by the woman standing over her. "Who are you?" rushed Shizuka barely managing those words.
"We've come to take ya to yer dad, Shizuka Kitawara," Sheila replied as she bent down grabbing Shizuka at the wrist to pull her up to her feet.
"No! You've got the wrong person! Let me—" Shizuka strained at her arm trying to break free from the grip, but the woman was far too strong for her. She had no leverage or strength and each time that she tried she quickly got countered into a painful position.
"Not gonna work this time, kid! Changin' ya name and hair color is pretty smart for someone yer age, but we aren't gonna be fooled. And I'll give ya points for makin' a fool of Ed like that." Sheila began to pull at Shizuka trying to force her to her feet so that she walked on her own rather than getting the burns and scraps from the dirt. The stubborn streak in Shizuka fought with Sheila as she ripped the young girl up forcing her on her feet. A few steps later Shizuka purposely tripped herself dragging through the earth and slowing down Sheila. It was not enough to stop Sheila, though she became quickly annoyed, with her continuing down the row of corn dragging Shizuka by one arm. "Didn't think a little girl like ya would give us so much trouble."
Far from done, Shizuka struggled with the woman trying to twist her arm free, but only found it to cause more pain than she could accept. She took a moment to be quiet and think while dragged. Shizuka stretched her free arm behind her going for her water bottle tucked away in a work satchel. The search in her pack freed up the bottle as she pulled it towards her unsnapping the top. She quickly squeezed the bottle spraying the water on her arm. The water and surprise from the woman was enough to give Shizuka the opportunity she needed to break free. It was only seconds, but Shizuka fled into the opposite direction disappearing between the rows of corn using her size to her advantage as Sheila struggled with it losing sight of her.
10km East of Welest
Partially dug into the earth following a rough emergency landing was a small ship. The ship was long and rounded on its corners painted an off white. There were scorch marks and shielding plates missing from parts of the hull. A little smoke and heat was dripping out the rear of the ship along its thrusters. Inside the crew worked on getting their supplies together, thrown apart from the ship's entry.
Callein marched through the entry to the cockpit where Rinn ran diagnostics on the ship. They crash nearly two hours ago leaving them wide open to detection. Their mission risked compromise if they could not get the ship moving soon. "What's the status on the repairs?"
"This would be a lot easier if we had an engineer. Half of the systems on this bucket were thrown together haphazardly. They didn't know what they were doing."
"Well no one's done atmospheric entry in a long time and the records were all lost from that time."
"It wasn't the atmosphere that's the problem, Commander. Even without records it's pretty straightforward. It's the shield that they didn't understand. It's not entirely physical or energy, but it acts in a manner across both and any electronics or machinery interacting with the shield was affected."
"Alright, but how long? You've been going for two hours."
"As I was saying, most of the ship touched the shield as some point and so systems throughout are possibly fried or malfunctioning. If the ship wasn't so hastily prepared and worked like a normal transport I'd be able to find the problems. However, I've been just trying to learn what they did to this thing."
"Well we can't do anything right now. So if you need assistance we're available."
"Once I know what needs to be fixed," Rinn returned hopeful before going back to the computer interface.
Callein marched back into the cargo hold of the ship, which accounted for the bulk of the room. The seats for his team were empty as they were about the hold. Most of the supplies were finally back in order. In the back near the rear loading dock were the six Second Skins, humanoid appearing machines operated by a human pilot, outfitted specifically for combat within the Earth. They were all test Skins leaving the Commander slightly uneasy about their efficiency in combat, but that was one of their objectives. There was always one pilot in a Skin running in low power consumption to be ready in case they needed to engage whatever the devils of the Earth sent at them.
The Skins locked secure to the ship in a seated position. Callein approached the lone Skin that quietly hummed the electronics and hardware of the cockpit. He climbed up the leg of the humanoid shaped machine to the shoulder. The entry hatch remained open as the faint glow of the two-hundred seventy degree hemi-spherical display screen crept out. Callein leaned over the shoulder near the head camera of the machine looking down into the tunnel towards the pilot seat. "Pol! I'm relieving you!"
"Understood, Commander!" The commander stepped back and jumped down the machine as Polsen Wells began to climb up out of the shaft by the rails. His machine's electronic whirring slowly came to a stop as systems shut down while the core recharged the energy cell. Wells jumped down his Skin as the Commander had with the same experienced reflexes of a veteran pilot.
The team's newbie stared off from the small circular window caught his attention. "Enjoying the view?"
"Oh, Ensign Wells, sir! I'm sorry, sir!" flustered the newbie feeling a little nervous for having been caught distracted rather than work. She turned around and stiffened her position coming to attention for him, being that he was an officer and higher rank than her. Like everyone, she wore her pilot suit, however not being an officer the color scheme was black as a base with purple.
Wells took a step back not being too fond of the formality shown. He liked it when it was important, but it was not now. His arms waved with his words to stop the conditioned reaction. "Hey! At ease. No need to be so formal right now. Just call me Wells or you can call me Dual Shot…um…Warrant Officer." When he was getting to the end of his words started to lay it on pretty thick.
New she was, an idiot she was not. She gave him a cold, hopefully refreshing, look with her words. "It's Warrant Officer Schir Mille, sir!"
The ensign coughed a couple times realizing that he was being cut off. He knew when to stop and changed the subject quickly. "Uh…right… So what were you looking at?"
"Oh nothing specific. It's just amazing. All of the stories that have been told about the Earth." Schir stepped back turning her head towards the small window pointing out to Wells the scenery. Where they had parked gave an expansive view of green fields with some farms nearby and low mountains in the distance.
Wells took a quick look, though he had already, and while noting it found it to be uninteresting. The rest of the team held thoughts similar with Schir finding it to be an almost shocking contrast to what everyone took for granted. Most children heard ghost stories and things that would give them nightmares about horrific imagery to depict the Earth. For them to finally be able to actually see it gave a strange pause. "Were you expecting it to be all covered in fire like the priests say?"
"Well no…I don't know maybe… It's just not like I imagined. It looks so peaceful sort of like Equuleus."
"It's not all peaceful… Some of it still looks like Hell." He pointed to the opposite side of the ship to the window that was the portal to Hell, but not in the traditional depiction. An eerie purple fog that sat as a meter layer strangled the other side of the land within sight. Adding to the landscape was the dark clouds tainted by the environment and storming further away. All the land was rough and barren as an endless wasteland utterly devoid of anything. The further away the darker and more menacing it appeared almost having a life of its own that compelled one to stare on until nothing was left but a husk of a person.
"I wonder what happened?" There were many stories told depending on who was talking. The religious claimed that God descended upon Earth and wiped it clean of sin that had so heavily burdened the planet. Scientists fell more divided in their theories since the records for before the disaster no longer existed. The most common theory was that it was a massive nature disaster either of cosmic origin, such as an asteroid or comet, or planetary disaster. The less considered theory was that it was man's only fault through some explosion or virus. The average citizen believed the Earth used up to a point everyone had to leave and it was simply a wasteland of old cities and people creating a literal graveyard over the entire surface. No one was certain of anything, but one fact. There was someone still living on the planet or else there never would have been Eridanus Day.
Piercing the empty silence of the airways was the solitary transport plane carrying with it Aerona and her Skadi. Once they entered the last known reported readings of the unknown ship entering atmosphere Air approached the cockpit. While she strolled she put on her helmet, covering her short close to her head light brown hair. The glass visor remained open, but the communication set built into the helmet allowed her to listen to the transmissions between Command and them.
Even before the plane had entered the search area their scanning equipment ran at maximum range. The few things they picked up only amounted to registered civilian vehicles with it being sensitive enough to find cars and trucks on the ground below. However, once in the region they were unable to find anything from an immediate scan. It left them forced to circle in a wide path while they executed more intense searches.
"SEA Sector E14 scan completed, nothing. Moving to E15…" the co-pilot said as he ran through the search protocols.
"Command, the unknown ship may not even be here," said Air calmly in an almost clinical tone. "It has been almost three hours since it was detected entering the atmosphere and the search radius does not account for the time."
The same man that had talked to her in the hanger came over the line. "We're aware of that, Air. However, we don't have the resources for such a search radius."
"Ensign Toule, would it not be a better use of the resources to search the locations where they could be in three hours travel?"
"Command believes the origination to be more important." In the travel time the main command staff had arrived taking over from the maintained skeleton crew. The orders that they had given changed from the initial plans. It left some confused, but it was simply their task to follow orders and not question.
"Command! Faint heat and energy being detected in E15!"
There was a long delay after the communications from Command as the co-pilot ran the readings that he was getting through the database. "There's no match, sir!"
"How's that possible?" the pilot said with equal surprise as his partner.
"Commander Tulother!" called Rinn coming over the communication's line into his Skin. "I've narrowed down the problems. Most of the repairs will require replacements."
Callein turned his head up out of habit listening to the sound only line. "Understood. You have my team to use as you need." There was suddenly an alert popping up on the screen of Callein's Skin. An unknown object approached them. He began turning on his systems in preparation. The computer already tried to identify the object, but he knew it would be a futile effort since anything on Earth would not be in the library. Even without an identifier the system could get a shape, size and energy readings to give him an idea of what he faced. His hand tightened around the thruster and arm controls feeling his nerves rise in tension as his mission came under risk. "Rinn, looks like we might have been spotted. I'm picking up what looks like a plane and judging by its size a cargo transport. Hurry on the repairs."
"Understood, Commander." The line went silent afterwards as Rinn left his chair going to the storage supply of parts. He grabbed the rest of Terra One Team to help him.
The commander opened a line through their suits to one of his team. "Rivers get to your Skin and start the initialization procedures. Keep it in conservation mode until I give you orders!"
"Yes, sir!" complied Rivers as he snapped the collar of his pilot suit back into place from the loosened relax fit, when he was technically off duty. He ran over to his Skin a JAS-1503 Jade Jiaolong machine like the rest of the team apart from the Commander, a Peng also from Jade. The base body for the Skins came fitted to function in a gravity environment, but beyond that they customized their Skins to suit their combat style. This flexibility was more due to the Jade Corporation's designs and less with the military granting freedoms to its pilots. All of the machines came identical without base equipment, but designed to allow a wide variety of attachments to connect to the hull of the machine. For Rivers he preferred defense over strength and fitted accordingly with the SET-J21 Siege Targe 'Set' and the SSHS-J102 Solid Shift Sword 'Triple S'. In addition for defense he had additional armor plating as well as leg thrusters to make up for the weight increase. His Jiaolong was slower than the others, but in battles he usually came out with the least damage with his more conservative approach.
Rivers dropped down the shaft into his seat feeling the lower back chair plug of his suit locking into the seat's back support. He brushed aside his blonde hair out of eyes focused on the start up.
"Second heat source detected, sir!" the co-pilot of Air's transport reported in, "The first heat source is increasing."
"Air! Get Skadi started! Don't launch though," Toule ordered having received the confirmation.
"Yes, sir!" Aerona left the front cabin and marched back to the truck holding her machine. The solid black with white highlights machine held a jarring similarity in form to a human. It seemed created to be as similar in appearance as a human even down to having fingers and a sculpted face. She leapt up to the chest of the machine walking up its thick, but slim figure towards its head. Dark soulless blue eyes staring into the distance as she looked down. A seam in the face formed suddenly at Air's approach that widened and lengthened from the eyes to the bottom of the chin. The section of metal pivoted open from the chin granting access inside where a seat waited.
She entered the chamber in the head allowing the hatch to close casting the small space into darkness before a complete three-hundred sixty spherical display monitor flickered. The operating system began its boot process displaying in the front in a window, on the display the words All-purpose Equipment for Self Interfacing Response, 'AESIR'. All of the cameras became active displaying the plane's interior on the monitor along with core readings for the reactor start up and battery charge. "Thirty seconds to start up completion," she informed to those on the line.
"Commander!" Rivers yelped almost jumping when he saw a new energy and heat source on the display.
Callein narrowed his eyes feeling the uneasy dread in his stomach further building. The feeling was only one that he sensed when going into a battle that he was uncertain of its outcome. "Yes, I see it. It looks like they're reacting to us."
"If that's the case we should just show those devils who should be afraid!" Wells shouted over the suit communication. He always had a reckless attitude of strike first and quick rather than waiting to judge the enemy. There was a pause in response that made Wells frustrated at the indecision. "Commander!"
"Ensign Toule!" snapped an aged man seated the command chair of the Secondary Command Center. Other officers held from their tasks as they stared over towards the General and the Ensign. "I gave you an order!"
"But General Nornland we don't know who it is yet! We can't destroy the ship without a reason!"
"They're the enemy! Those damn terrorists Ragnarok! Now follow my orders or I'll have you court marshaled!"
Keeping to himself for the most part as just an observer was a middle aged man in a lab coat standing in the back of the room. He looked over to the Ensign with a meaning in his eyes that told him that he should obey. "This is the moment she was born for and purpose for living, Ansgar."
The young man ground his hands into fists shaking while keeping his face under control and free of emotions. "Understood, sir." He turned around facing the main monitor that displayed the camera from the plane. "Launch and destroy the target!"
"Acknowledged, sir," echoed Air evenly as the rear hatch on the plane began to open slowly pouring light in with blaring wind. Once the hatch opened fully the truck holding Skadi began to move to the rear. The vehicle came to a stop at the end of the hatch allowing the machine to drop out from the plane beginning free fall. Faint sunlight from the afternoon sky shone around Air in the cockpit while she righted herself and applied thrust to slow her descent coming to a gentle landing.
"Rivers switch to combat mode! Looks like they've dropped a Skin," ordered the Commander as he moved for the rear hatch of the ship. They had immediately picked up the large heat source falling and the radar was bouncing back a silhouette that they were uncertain about.
"But it's too large to be a Skin!" commented Rivers when he viewed the data. It was significantly larger than their Skins. Jade's Skins were the smallest, but even the largest combat Skins were nowhere near the size of what they were seeing. It was nearly six meters taller.
Callein narrowed his eyes as he walked out of the ship with his Skin. "Rivers!" he snapped back to the Warrant Officer to break him out of his momentary paralysis.
"Sorry, sir! Switching from conservation to combat mode now! Five seconds to power requirements."
"Get this ship flying immediately!" he commanded over the line to the ship. "We'll draw away their fire!" Now that he was outside the visuals could come in on their target. However, the moment that he got his cameras to find the machine all of the radar and electronic detection systems seemed to fail as it disappeared from the computer's sight. He could still see it on the camera at a magnified scale forcing him to run a systems check that came back cleared. 'Does it have stealth technology built-in? What sort of beast have they made?' However, he had little time to question what he saw as the computer was able to detect a new high energy source coming from the black Skin giant. "A particle weapon…" he declared as he pulled on the controls initiating his thrusters to evade the blue long ranged beam. 'Can't stand around here any longer!'
When his Peng came to a rough landing he activated the wings on his back folding out straight behind the machine equipped with several thrusters. Unlike the Jiaolong, the Peng was the only Skin constructed by Jade specifically for combat on the Earth and not space combat. It had a lighter and slimmer frame than the Jiaolong, but it could also fly and had greater mobility. Callein kept the armor light to give him the speed advantage which he needed against this enemy as the readings from the energy beam would have been enough to completely destroy even a Jiaolong. He took to the sky firing all of his thrusters as the next shot came barely missing his legs causing the paint to peal a little.
"He is fast…he is reacting after I fire… The targeting computer is not fast enough yet," Aerona analyzed as she fired another shot from her shoulder mounted Heavy Focused Energy Cannon. However, when she saw on her monitor a magnified image of a second machine exiting the downed transport she changed her target. "Switching to the unknown ship." The unmoving target would be quicker to destroy and then she could focus on the second smaller enemy.
Rivers had just made it out of the ship when his targeting computer announced that the enemy had locked onto their ship. "They're going after the ship, Commander!" He pushed his thrusters to carry his Skin out in front of the ship to put himself between the black giant and the transport. "I'm defending this spot, sir!"
"No, Rivers! You're Jiaolong will be destroyed!" Callein ran his thrusters to their maximum advised feeling the sudden g-forces that slammed him into his chair as he charged for the enemy Skin. He had to get into range with his 'Pair' Particle Assault Rifle before they could fire on Rivers and their ship. 'It'll cut through Rivers' armor and hit the ship!' All around him the rattling of his machine against the stress that he was putting on it echoed through his body as it crushed him against the seat not intended for use for such long durations.
The Peng's arm came up aiming its rifle as it came into range of the machine firing off a burst of shots. The small blue beams shot out hitting the mark as well as the ground around it kicking up a dust cloud. Cameras failed to detect the enemy and the computer still failed Callein left still charging towards firing off another burst not taking any chances.
Ominous clouds held around the machine as the small Peng roared in uncertain of a kill. A sudden flash of light burst from the clouds as a tunnel burrowed through the clouds as the large blue beam shot from the cannon of the Skadi towards Rivers. As the beam reached the Jiaolong there was a massive explosion rocking the earth. "Rivers!" The Peng flew past the revealing Skadi returning to its normal combat speed making its course over the ground of the debris cloud.
Callein tried to get a reading on the area but there was too much debris that clouded the radar. He forced himself to wait, but he was surprised to find that the beam stopped saving the ship from destruction. His Peng made a second pass on the area as the wind blew through carrying around the cloud revealing the Jiaolong.
"Commander…I'm still here…" sighed Rivers breathing heavily from what had just happened. He sweated under his suit from the tensions and proximity of the explosion. In the last moment before the beam hit him he threw his shield away from him to take the hit. The shield came coated with an energy resistant material, but even with it the beam completely destroyed it and hit his machine. The energy dispersed enough that his armor was able to take the hit. He hit the button at his side that detached all of his additional armor, now melted and riddled with shrapnel or holes. "A couple of my cameras are damaged, but otherwise I can still fight!"
"We need to get this foe in close range!"
"Yes, sir!" The Jiaolong pulled out its Triple S from its waist and charged forward with full thrust accompanied by the Peng from above. They forced the Skadi to move from its spot as it retracted its cannon behind it separating into three pieces and locked in place. Out of its forearms came rifle barrels that shot out lower energy beams keeping the two Skins from getting too close. The battle was on the move leaving the crash site and stomping into a cornfield.
Distant explosions reverberated through the ground towards Shizuka. It sent a terrified panic through her body that she had never felt before. The feeling was indescribable for her. Sweat dripped down her face and arms as the cold air suddenly felt like it became ice freezing her. The earth shaking echoes ripped at her stomach. Shizuka's mind went blank thinking only of running to get away as the strange noises became like thunder overhead. Her legs tried to move, but the paralysis still gripped her until a blue beam shot overhead heating the air and whipping her hair around through the displaced air.
Shizuka broke through the rows of corn fleeing from the sounds as the dread reached rapidly closer. Crashing through another row she collided with something solid falling down in the dirt as a large shadow suddenly cast over her before there was a massive thud followed by the crinkling of corn. Only three meters in front of her a huge metal boot had stepped into the field. Dazed by the thunderous pounding of hydraulics and machinery, Shizuka attempted to pull her head up to look up at the colossus. All she could see through blurred eyes was the blue burst of fire from thrusters as it jumped evading a beam. 'What's going on? What is that thing?!'
She scrambled to her feet as the quaking pulses from the heavy footsteps of two humanoid machines giving chase and dueling made it difficult to find the ground stable. The collapse of the smaller of the machines to the ground in a huge crash knocked her back to her knees. Next to her Ed – who she ran into – worked to gather his senses still thrown by the mechanized chaos.
A blast nearby in the field from an energy impact exploded followed in quick succession by smaller blasts all around them. It threw the two together reflexively to hold on to each other for courage and support as they were lost in the middle of a battlefield.
"Rivers! Can you move?!" yelled Callein as he flew by trying to keep the monster machine away from his subordinate.
Rivers' Jiaolong had been thrown by Skadi when it tried to come in close with its sword. The strength of the machine surprised Rivers leaving him in the state that he found himself in, on his back with the computer running a systems check. He had fortunately avoided direct hits from Callein's hit and run strikes. "The left arm and leg joints are damaged, but they'll function!" He fired up his thrusters using all of them on his back and his leg to get himself into the air enough to attempt to stand. However, a direct hit from the Skadi's forearm beams destroyed his machine's left arm and sent him flying backwards sliding into the earth once more.
A communication from the ship came in to Callein's Skin. "Sir let us sortie!" Wells shouted.
"No! The priority is to get the ship in the air! Don't leave until it is done!" The Skadi aimed both of its arms forward towards Rivers even as Callein hit Skadi from behind trying to interrupt its shot. "Get out Rivers!" It was too late for him do anything as the blue beams released from the barrels hitting the Rivers' Jiaolong in the chest immediately engulfing it in a reddish-pink explosion. "Rivers!"
"No! Welest!" Shizuka shouted as she saw the machine blow up next to her village taking half of it with in the blast. Her eyes grew wide in shock as she thought she could feel the countless deaths just taken. It made her heart stop for a moment before a stabbing pain hit her. Tears started to stream down her face burying her head into Ed's chest with her hands tightly gripping onto his arms. "My village…everyone's…dead! Why?!"
To be continued…