I walk over to my computer and sit down, spinning around on my seat with a yawn. "Ryuki," I call out, my words causing the monitor to come to life. Screens upon screens show themselves to me and I use my hands to navigate the many windows. With a quick tap of my finger, I activate the video call function and speed-dial my friends.

The phone rings for a few seconds before I'm greeted to a pleasant sight—a college boy in his underpants and unshaven. I sigh when I notice that he's just shifting his boxers suspiciously. "Goddamn, can't you wait a bit?" He yawns, the annoyance evident in his voice. "Sun barely came up…"

Averting my eyes from the gross scene, I throw my hands up in the air. "Sorry if I'm a bit eager to celebrate my sixteenth birthday, Takashi." I say, adding a little chuckle. "I mean, it can wait."

"Right, right… let me guess, you just woke up and rolled off your bed, moped around for a bit, then used the walk to your computer to get your blood flowing before calling me?"

Damn, right on the nose. "Nah, I ate breakfast at six-thirty." I lied. Like hell I would admit the truth to him. "But back on subject; are you still free for today?"

"Taneshima-kun," says my friend with a slightly bitter laugh. "Why wouldn't I be free? No job and summer break make for a lot of free time. And before you get the bright idea of going, 'So is that a yes,' then let me shoot down the idea by saying 'no fucking shit.'"

I hold back a small laugh at his apparent irritation. "Wow, aren't you pleasant?" I tease, turning my attention to a new window opening. "Good morning, Minori."

The window displays no image, her call function giving off a pretty big [SOUND ONLY] message. "Morning, guys. Bit early for a call, isn't it?" Rings the newcomer to the call, my best friend for over a decade, Minori. "Like, honestly Kaorin. It isn't even eight in the morning, but you're calling the both of us. I know you're so happy about today, but give us a chance to wake up a bit."

I can't help but have a chuckle at that. Resting my cheek on my hand, I stare at the screen and say, "Well Minori, knowing how excited you've been to celebrate my birthday, would it be wrong for me to assume that you stayed up all night?" I ask with a grin, confident in my guess.

"Damn, you got me Kaorin," Laughs Minori, catching both me and Takashi off guard as she turns on her camera. Before me and Takashi, was my best friend, Minori Koizumi, wearing only a polka-dot pajama top, combing her hair as looked intently at the camera, with a confident grin spread across her face. "I was absolutely waiting for our little date. So, are you getting ready?"

I chuckle a bit at her word choice. Yeah, a 'date.' That is one way to put it. "I just need to eat breakfast and get dressed. I'll be out with you in a little bit, so hold up a while, okay?" I ask, looking down at a small cap on my desk and flicking it against a small target I have painted on my wall, as a sort of habit I picked up from my brother.

Minori gives a toothy-salute and winks an eye at me. "Roger! See you at the station, right?" I nod. "Okay! See ya!"

With a click, the video call cuts on her end, leaving me and Takashi alone on my screen. "I'll meet you guys in Shinjuku. I want another thirty minutes of sleep before I head to the station." He yawns as he shifts around to try and turn off his camera. A swing and a miss prompts him to ask me a question; "So, what is the plan for today anyway? Are we stopping by your dad's work, or something?"

"No chance in hell," I immediately reply, shooting Takashi a small glare. With an irritated sigh, I go on to explain to him my reasoning, "I wouldn't go there unless I had a damn good reason. Plus, it's not like he ever calls home when he's at work, so he won't be wishing me happy birthday."

My older friend gives me an incredulous look before letting off a shrug. "Whatever. I'll see you in Shinjuku. Later, Taneshima-kun."

"See you later, Takashi."

We both press our buttons to end our little chat, and I head downstairs to find my mother already preparing breakfast. The smell of the eggs frying on the pan fills the kitchen and wafts out into the hallways, causing my stomach to growl in anticipation for her delicious breakfast. Considering the day, she probably has something special in mind.

That thought is dashed the moment I step into the kitchen and see that she only has eggs, rice, toast and bacon ready for me. I look to my mother with disappointment, to which she just shrugs and yawns. "It is something quick to make before you leave, since you're heading out soon."

Okay, she has a point but still. It is my birthday, so she can't really fault me for expecting more than this. I let out a disappointed grumble as I eat the (admittedly delicious) breakfast. "Thanks for the meal, mom."

My mother nods and opens the fridge. "Don't mention it Kaoru. Happy Birthday, by the way." She says, before pausing in the middle of her search. "Say, you're going to Shinjuku today, right?"

"Yes. Why do you ask?"

"Can you run a quick errand for me? It'll only take you a little bit and it shouldn't cut into your day for more than like… half an hour, probably."

I am slightly apprehensive about this. The way she hesitated in her words towards the end is enough to set some red flags off in my mind. Unfortunately for me, my nature as a 'good kid' came to bite me in the ass when I answered back, "Sure, what do you need me to do?"

The suspicion I was having about my mother's errand turned out to be right when I saw a boxed lunch. "Give this to your dad. He's going to come home in a week, but someone raided his fridge. I made him some food, so if you'd be so kind?"

My face drops when she hands me the box, "Seriously? You're making me go there on my birthday, the day that is supposed to be a day that I am supposed to enjoy?"

Shrugging, my mom forces the bento into my hands. "He has a gift for you, you'll love it!"

Oh, if my dad has a gift for me, that makes everything better, obviously.

Grumbling as I am forced to take the bento, I finish up breakfast and head back upstairs. "Thanks mom, food was good," I shout back as I close the door. I open up my dresser and begin to pull out my clothes for the day—something simple and not too eye-catching. Something like this pair of beige shorts and blue-striped short sleeve shirt. This'll do nicely.

I return down and grab my shoes, sliding them off before I call out to my mother, "I'm off!"

"Be careful!"

I smile as I head out the door and into the bright and sunny day. Immediately, I feel myself floored by the oppressive heat. Even still, I need to keep heading onwards to the station to meet up with my good friend. I try to straighten myself up as I walk down the blazing hot streets, taking a glance at the others passing by me. I feel a small bit of joy when I see that others are handling the heat worse than I am. It makes me feel a bit stronger about my own endurance.

Does that make me a bad person? I shrug these thoughts out of my head as I see myself approach the train station.

"Hey Kaorin," I hear a voice call out from the stairs up ahead. I look over and see a girl with long black hair tied into a pair of cute twin-tails that reach down to ribs and adorned in a black-white striped shirt and thigh-length jean shorts that highlights her slender figure. Standing at the top of the stairs and waving down at me, is my best friend; Minori Koizumi.

I walk over to her and smile, raising a hand up to greet her. "Yo," I say as I look up to her. Despite being the same age, Minori stands a good twenty centimeters over me. It's not because she's particularly tall or anything, but rather I'm a goddamn midget. People still mistake me for an elementary schooler.

Once I'm up the stairs, Minori leans down to eye level and gives me a pat on the head. "Aww, aren't you a cutie? Do your parents know you're out here alone?"

Fucking bitch! I knock her hand away from me and glare daggers at her. "Cut that out Minori, this is my birthday and I want at least a little respect from my friends."

"But Kaorin, you are just so much fun to tease! I can't help it," she said as she walked ahead towards the train. "Our ride hits the station in about five minutes. Got any plans for when we get to Shinjuku?"

I shrug my shoulders and hold up the bento that my mom gave me. "Mom wants me to go to ECJ's headquarters and give my dad some food. Someone took the jerk's food from his fridge."

Minori frowns a bit at the prospect but sighs. She always was one to understand where I was coming from in regards to my annoyance with my dad. "Well, if you say so. Let's just be quick about it all, okay?"

I nod in agreement. The less time I have to spend at that place, the better. We make our way into the station interior and wait for our train to arrive. As we take a seat on the bench, I take a look over Minori and just admire her style for a bit.

She really is cute, I can't deny it. Her hair, which she has tied into a pair of twintails has a lustrous shine to it and looks both silky smooth and fluffy as can be. Her sense of fashion also has a weird thing, where it makes people just want to compliment how cute she is. Her shirts sleeves were so short that one could see the straps of her white bra. Combine that with her cheery, approachable personality and it becomes a wonder that a girl like her still manages to be single.

Minori blinks and sends me a glance with a raised eyebrow, "Are you falling in love with me, Kaorin?" She asks with a teasing tone lingering on her voice. "I know that I'm super cute, but staring is rude."

I take it back; it isn't a wonder that she is still single. She is pretty narcissistic at times and it can be extremely off-putting. I scoff at her suggestion and shake my head, "Like hell I'd ever do that," I say with a shrug. "Honestly Minori, you're not quite my type."

"Oh? So does that mean you're more into developed girls?" She shoots back, making a gesture to her chest. "You like big ones, like the ones that you-know-who has?"

By instinct, I send my friend a death glare with enough intensity to cause her to flinch. Mentioning her and her things is a line that she knows she shouldn't cross with me. I narrow my eyes and stare her down, "Minori."

She raises her hands in apology and laughs nervously, "Right, right. Sorry, I was just joking a bit and didn't mean to take it to places you're uncomfortable with."

At least she gets it. I sigh and shake my head and just wait for the train to arrive. Which it does in about ten minutes. The two of us get on the train and take our seats and wait a few minutes before jerking back at the train's sharp movements. From zero, to six hundred kilometers an hour within twenty seconds. With the stops at other stations taken into account, we should be arriving in Shinjuku in about half an hour.

Technology these days sure is amazing!

Minori and I just shoot the breeze for a while to pass the time. We talk about all sorts of things, from school to music, but eventually we get to a subject that while I'm not averse to, I'd rather not talk about with her.

"By the way, how is your brother doing?"

I internally sigh at the question and force a smile. "He's doing great, Minori. He actually has a tournament coming up really soon, so he hasn't been responding to any messages we send."

Minori nods at this information, "Ah, right, right. But he is still getting them, right? When is the tournament?"She asks.

Christ girl, calm down!

"He is getting them, yes. But you know how he gets when a crunch-time comes close. So he has to be ready in like, two weeks. That is when the tournament is."

She nods excitedly. "You're going, right? To support your brother, right? Can I come?"

"Minori, we have school."

"We can cut class for a day."

I bury my face in my hands. This is why I don't like talking about my brother with Minori. She has an extremely obvious crush on him and whenever he does something notable, or has an event of some sort, she wants to be the first to know. If it weren't for the fact I've known her for over a decade, I'd be thinking she is using me to get closer to my brother.

A completely reasonable worry to have though, seeing as how my brother is one of the best CMS pilots in the country. He is one of the pilots for the team that has consistently become the representative for Tohoku. While the team itself has never made it past the third round of the nationals, it is never because he underperforms.

Quite the opposite. He performs so well he forgets that nationals aren't always both elimination matches and one-on-one. Simply put, my brother Hajime, is a horrible team player. Most of his victories have been when he is able to single handedly carry the rest of his team. But his reckless attitude has earned him the ire of people around Tohoku when he loses a major match.

Still though, he will always have a fan in me and Minori. Even if Minori takes it a few steps too far.

That said, I do wonder why it has been so long since I last saw him. He normally drops by for a visit once every month or so. He still lives in the prefecture, so the fact he has been maintaining radio silence for so long must mean that he is either too busy with practice, or got into some trouble. Though to be honest, he more than likely got a bit too caught up in one of his side hobbies.

"Now arriving at Shinjuku."

That would be our stop. I motion to Minori and we both get up to leave the train. Once it comes to a halt, we disembark and I hear a voice stick out from the bustling crowd. "Oi, Taneshima-kun!"

I turn to the source of the voice and find a hand waving at me and Minori from the crowd. Taking her by the hand, we shuffle through the people and find ourselves standing before a tall man dressed in the most plain-looking pants and shirt ever and sporting brown hair, smiling down at us warmly. The man nods, "Hey there you two, enjoy the ride?"

This man is Takashi Hiiragi, my former senpai back when I was in middle school. He used to be a member of an off-school swim-club with me, but left after I had been there for a year for some reason. We managed to hit it off pretty well, so we kept in contact, seeing each other every so often to go shopping, or something like that. He's a nice guy, though his hobbies are a bit weird.

Minori grins and salutes at him, "Hey Takachin. Ride was fine, but didn't you say you would be half-an-hour before you left for the train?" She asks, confused by the fact he is here before either of us. A fair question and one I'd like an answer to as well.

The college student blinks and laughs at the two of us. Waving his hand, Takashi quickly explains, "Duh, it is because I live within ten minutes away from the station and the ride is only about eight minutes. Why wouldn't I get here before you," he laughed.

Well, he sure knows how to make us feel stupid.

"Ah, before we do anything I ended up getting a request from my mom," I say, holding up the bento to him. "She wants me to stop and drop this off at my dad's work."

Takashi's eyes widen in a bit of shock. "Oh wow, you're actually going to visit your dad. That's an incredible shocker, Taneshima-kun."

Minori nods in agreement, "I know, right? Kaorin is always complaining, 'My dad is awful! He never comes home!'" She says in a teasing tone. Hugging me underneath her arms, Minori laughs and continues to bully me in the way that she knows only she can get away with. "Our little Kaorin is growing up so fast!"

Takashi nods and wipes his eyes, "I think I am going to cry… Taneshima-kun, I'm so proud of you!"

I hate you both.

Shaking myself free of Minori's hold, I walk on ahead, only a little irritated. "Let's just go already!" I shout to them as I head out of the station and onto the bustling streets. Every time I come here to Shinjuku,I am blown away by how lively this place is. Large skyscrapers with screens playing matches of various CMS battles from around world, people running to and from arcades and VR parlors, stores lining the block dedicated to the art of CMS news and equipment and the like.

Shinjuku truly is the capital of CMS in Japan. From what the history books on Tokyo have told me, Shinjuku had almost always been a center of business and commercialism. But since CMS battles became commonplace, it had turned into Japan's number one spot for Sporting Goods and events. It's to be expected that it'd be Shinjuku of all places, especially since EcoCrown's Japanese branch is situated here.

We walk down the ever crowded sidewalks, taking in the sights and sounds. The never-ending pitter patter of feet stepping on the sidewalks, the roar of the railways overhead and the rambling of the jumbo screens on buildings, showcasing the newest and most expensive suits that EcoCrown Japan has released to the market.

They're so cool! Propulsion systems that exceed mach two, weapon systems that range from hard beams, or High Explosive shells and even for the really rich, they have plasma technology! Not only that, but their defensive capabilities are at an all time high, being able to withstand pressures of over three-thousand pounds per square inch, as well as temperatures of over three thousand celsius. Every year, they slowly improve the quality of the machines that people can buy and every year, the top pilots of a region become even more spectacular. I think within the next decade we might have my brother's CMS as an off-the-shelf model.

EcoCrown's evolving technology isn't amazing. It is nothing short of a technological miracle. Though unfortunately for the world, nobody knows the secret behind how it works. All that is known about it is that it uses nanomachines to convert energy into solid matter, or something. How that's possible is beyond me though. My dad mentioned it being something called a 'Black Box,' meaning nobody really knows step-two of a three-step process.

Honestly, he probably just said that to cover for himself not knowing what he's doing. Would not surprise me in the slightest.

"Oi, Taneshima-kun. We're waiting for you to get us in. Heads out of the clouds, please."

I'm snapped out of my thoughts when Takashi gives me a light pat on the back. I look around in surprise as I find myself standing before the large gate of EcoCrown Japan. Just when did I get here with everyone? How deep in thought was I?

No time to wonder that though. Walking forward to the gate, I hold my wrist to the the digital lock and allow it to scan my data.

"Please state the purpose of your visit," requests the robotic voice of the security program.

I clear my throat and recite the speech that I've (sadly) gotten used to saying. "I'm Kaoru Taneshima, age sixteen and second child of Hiro Taneshima, Executive Researcher in EcoCrown Japan. I am here to make a personal delivery. In my company, I have two guests who should be cleared for access; Minori Koizumi, age sixteen and Takashi Hiiragi, age twenty."

I motion for Minori and Takashi to step forward and have them get scanned. They both do so and I see a small needle come out and painlessly prick their wrists- as per standard for first time visitors to an EcoCrown branch. You need to be in their guest registry in case 'something' happens. Liability, I suppose.

A few moments pass before the program speaks again, "Please enjoy your visit to EcoCrown Japan's Main Facility. Professor Hiro Taneshima can be found on floor three, of the 'Concept Actualization' department, three buildings to the east." It says as the gate opens for the three of us.

Time to meet my dad. Yippee.

Though truthfully, I do like coming to EcoCrown Japan. I mean, how can I not? the place is a so beautiful, like a modernized reimagining of the classical buildings that you'd find in old Japan. I think the designs are vaguely reminiscent of the thirteenth century? History was never my strong suit. I think that'd be what people call the 'Sengoku Era?' The roofs flare out and are sectioned. The doors slide sideways, rather than open upwards, or outwards like most places. The layout of the facility was most certainly easy to navigate, but the aesthetic is what always takes my breath away. It feels like I've stepped into the Himeji temple with all of the perfectly places walls and trees, yet at the same time I feel like I'm walking into the future.

A future filled with an annoying father. And there goes my mood.

We reach the 'Concept Actualization' Building. This branch of EcoCrown, as my dad and brother put it, is responsible for 'making the edge that Japan needs to win the Internationals.' Clearly, my father is not doing a good job, since Japan consistently loses in the second or third round of the elimination stage. Constantly disappointing the pilots he is supposed to help.

That seems familiar.

As we step into the building, we find an elevator and get on. Due to the layout of EcoCrown's buildings, the 'third floor' of this department would be downwards, which means one simple thing.

"Third level, please," I say as I get ready to feel the elevator go downwards. This is about standard for this kind of facility, seeing as how a lot of the experiments they take part in are pretty secret. Upper levels would mostly be for public tours and business meetings, while the lower levels are where the actual testing goes down. If memory serves, every floor after the third level is considered top-secret. Unless you get invited in, you're not allowed in. Even then though, half of the communication functions of the LINKs are disabled, meaning no phone calls, recording, internet and in some extreme cases, the real-time translator.

My dad and brother are pretty loose lipped with that stuff though, so because of that, I'm quite in the know.

On the roof of the elevator pod, there is a small screen showcasing what appear to be testing of whatever they are currently working on. From the looks of it, I think they're making a heavy-frame suit with some sort of Armcannon and a chainsaw-like blade. It looks pretty awesome, to be honest. The thing, despite being quite bulky, is quickly hurdling through fire and firing off energy blasts of some sort, while the attack rains down laser fire from above.

The opposing CMS is on the other hand the opposite. Unlike the heavy frame's design which harkens to the giant robot stories of last century, this one maintains a more streamlined look, looking less like a flying suit of armor and more like something out of some sort of space opera from the early twenty-first century. In one hand, it carries a long blade that is slightly reminiscent of a katana, while the other hand it holds a light laser rifle. But most curiously, are the three drones that hover around it, firing off small bursts of lasers every so often, peppering its opponent.

The heavy unit's movements are filled with raw power as it breaks through the fire from the drones, swinging its weapon and firing off heavy blasts of energy from the arm cannon. But as if swimming through the ocean, the thinner, light unit deftly evades and takes off potshots with the rifle.

Their movements are dazzling, to be honest. So dazzling, that I almost miss the elevator door opening. I step out and shiver as I'm greeted by a blast of cold air conditioning. None of us were prepared for such a chill.

"Kaorin, why the hell is it so cold in here? This place sucks," whines Minori as she clutches her arms.

Takashi on the other hand, laughs through chattering teeth and looks around. "Chances are, that they want to observe things in a controlled environment. Isn't that right, Taneshima-kun?"

How should I know? I only know that experiments go on here, not what they are! Ignoring my friend for a second, I follow the halls and start looking for my dad. The halls of the floor are pretty straight forward and it seems that the doors aren't quite sound proofed, so I can hear the mutterings of the researchers in each room.

"It's my kid's birthday and I've got one hell of an awesome present to give. Just need to wait for Kaoru to come with my bento."

And that'd be him. Turning to the door, I knock and enter without waiting for a response. "Sorry for the intrusion," I offhandedly say as I hold up the box for my father, "I got something for Hiro Taneshima."

At that, I'm greeted by a loud laughter that rattles my ears. Standing before me, is my jerk of a father, Hiro Taneshima, in all of his 'glory,' wearing a long gray lab coat over his EcoCrown Japan uniform, which has been stained by marks of saliva, coffee and food that fell out of his mouth while he ate. I'd call him out on looking like a slob, but a cursory glance to the other researchers would show that he is one of the cleaner ones.

"Kaoru, how've you been?" He asks, holding out his arms towards me, expecting me to hug him. Frowning, I simply raise the bag containing his food in front of his face and send him a flat stare. A few moments pass before he simply laughs and takes it from me, whistling after he pops it open. "Thanks Kaoru. By the way, Happy Birthday! I have a gift for you… and your friends."

Oh no. Minori, Takashi, do not be taken in by his sweet words! He plans to have us do something sinister, like a mad scientist!

"Wait, we get something too? That's awesome! Kaorin, you're dad is awesome!"

"Wow, of all the things to expect today from you, I gotta say Taneshima-kun, this was not one of them."

My friends are traitorous sellouts! I look at them both with a look of disgust, as my father pulls us deeper into his lab and sits us down in three chairs. The lights dim and a screen goes on.

The bastard planned this!

"Now children, without further ado," began my father with a voice that was filled to the brim with a childlike glee- no doubt due to having test subjects for whatever sick project he was preparing, "Allow me to show you, the next generation of CMS, scheduled for release for the holiday season!"

The screen began to play the footage that we saw in the elevator, of the two CMS fighting. But beyond that, there were two other suits being shown to us, each one specialized for different ranges of combat.

The first one bore a color palette of chromatic blue and silver, with a golden trim, giving off the impression of a hero from a Tokusatsu work from a hundred years ago. On its arms, were blades that would jut out whenever it got within striking range and in the palm, a small built-in blaster that discharged a green energy- likely plasma.

"First off, we have the super mobile close range fighter. The working title of the CMS is 'Polaris.' Boasting an impressive top speed of mach three, this puppy can accelerate from zero to max within five seconds, shattering the record for fastest acceleration speed off of any off-shelf model, previously held by Korean Union. Combine these factors with its adjustable arm blades and zero-point plasma discharge and you have one of the most effective close quarter suits that are on the market at this point!"

My father is boasting of the work that is displayed to us. It seems like it is his pride, judging from that look on his face. To be honest, the amount of attachment he has for that suit over his own family is kind of gross.

He then goes on and changes the slide to focus second suit. It had a solid metallic black color scheme, with the English word, 'Crest,' written on its shoulders. Outside of its relatively massive bulk, what really stood out on this suit, was its armaments. A shoulder mounted mini-railgun on the left side, a shoulder mounted autocannon on the right and in the arms, what appears to be a weapon that has been relatively outdated for far longer than EcoCrown has been around- a pile bunker.

My father, giddy as a schoolgirl, goes on to explain. "This, is the heavy-duty Physical Payload Artillery CMS, codenamed 'Crest.' We designed this CMS with the goal of long-range combat in mind, but focused exclusively on physical ammunition," He said, before turning to us for a question. "Pop quiz, what is the reason that beam weapons are the primary form of combat in modern CMS combat?"

Minori raises her hand up, all too eager. "Beam shots do not carry environmental risks, in addition to naturally having more power for less energy consumption. In response to this, barriers are common place that either dampen, nullify, refract, absorb or reflect the beams, causing a need for physical weaponry to remain on the battlefield!"

Snapping his fingers, my father points to her with a grin. "Correct, Minori! Well done, very good! Physical ammunition is and always will be a mainstay on the battlefield!"

Wow, I didn't think she knew that much. Most of my knowledge is because of my brother and osmosis from whenever my father came home to talk about his work, so I know a fair bit more than her. For example, Minori neglected to mention that despite the prevalence of barriers, there are some beam weapons that can bypass them, such as beam blades. Barriers are not some impregnable force for beam weapons, as my brother and his CMS have proven repeatedly. Much like any wall, if you hit it enough with the right force, it'll come down. All physical ammunition does, is bypass the barrier and damage the suit directly.

Really, the core difference between all but the strongest of solid arms when you compare them to beam arms, is speed at downing a target versus reliability.

My father quickly resumes his explanation of 'Crest,' "Crest is a long-range CMS, with an effective range of thirty kilometers. While incapable of flight, the propulsion system built in will allow it to coast above the ground at approximately two hundred kilometers an hour. When compared to close-quarter assault-type units, or forward-type units, or even aerial sniper-types, these 'tank'-types are moving at a snail's pace. The truth of the matter however, is that you shouldn't be moving all that much.

"Crest bears a powerful anti-beam barrier and its armaments are able to cover all ranges. The railgun is capable of firing up to the mentioned one hundred kilometers, firing off a slug at a blistering speed of one-point-five kilometers a second! For suppressing fire, we have the autocannon, firing off twenty-five millimeter rounds at a rate of a hundred a minute! The effective range of this weapon, is about five kilometers.

Finally, due to the weakness of point blank assault, we have decided to give this CMS a Pile Bunker. Simply slam it into something and it'll deliver a blow of two-thousand bars. For the record, that pressure is almost equivalent to twenty-nine kilometers deep in the ocean!"

A blow like that is enough to do some decent damage on a CMS. A suit can actually withstand pressures exceeding twice that before they'd be crushed. They are extremely resilient, after all.

My father gives me a look, smiling confidently as he swaps the footage to the two suits I saw in the elevator. The sleek drone controller and the bulky arm cannon wielder.

"These two suits still don't have an official codename, however we do have their model number. Both CMS are of the 'all-range' type and are given different roles. The interceptor, the one with the drones is called 'One-UN-Four.' Equipped with a light beam rifle for mid-range combat, the real focuses when we were designing this CMS, was the blade and the drones. Both wholly original pieces of technology, we call the blade the 'Mooncutter,'and the drones 'Meteors.' The Mooncutter emits a special magnetic field that is capable of bending light to a degree, but most importantly, is the ability to 'cut' through beams. Its effectiveness as a weapon is also quite potent, as the magnetic field generates extreme heat equivalent to a beam blade.

"The next part worth noting is the drone technology. The 'Meteor' Takes the form of four different pods and in each pod, two different segments, which we shall call segments 'A' and 'B.' The first, segment 'A,' is a rapid-fire beam weapon, capable of firing off at a rate of two shots a second. With all for of the segments firing on a single target, you can take down the beam barriers in roughly thirty seconds.

The second one, segment 'B,' functions as a battering ram. Well, to be more precise, it is more for piercing. At the ends of each segment 'B,' is a hard point that is capable of causing significant damage. In addition, the primary propulsion system for each pod, is found in this segment, allowing it to accelerate to speeds of two-hundred kilometers an hour.

"Combine these two aspects together, as well as the high acceleration to a top speed of mach one and One-UN-Four is a very defensive CMS. If I had to describe it in a more poetic way, it would be like a guardian angel."

Something inside just… clicks when I hear that. I can't say what, but if this suit and the next one were designed together as counterparts, then I feel that these suits might be just for me.

The next slide shows the very super robot-like CMS. My father seems particularly proud of this one as he goes on to explain, "We call this suit internally by its codename of 'Five-Zero-One-IRIS.' Long ago, there was a nice rule of design. In English, it was called 'KISS,' meaning 'Keep it simple, stupid.' IRIS here, bears only two real weapons, being the Canadian designed Chainblade, as well as a Chinese Arm Blaster. However, we applied two spins on each one." He said, before focusing our attention on the chainsaw-like weapon.

"A standard issue Chainblade is akin to a sonic blade. It cuts through materials with extreme ease due to its extremely fast movement. More recent models from Canada even include sonic technology into each and every chain. However, we at EcoCrown Japan have went for a different approach. Rather than cutting through with vibrations, this sword has a new technology, that as of now, has no name- after all, I designed it!"

Control your pride there, father.

He clears his throat. "As I was saying, the technology doesn't synergize with the Chainblade in the standard way of using vibrations. Rather, in the base of the blade, there is a special liquid that when exposed to oxygen, burns in such a way that it can bypass the innate heat resistance of a CMS, causing it damage similar to a beam weapon, without being physical. Unofficially, we call this weapon the 'Pyrosaw.'"

As my father laughs at the name, Minori, Takashi and I all just cringe at the naming sense of EcoCrown. Seeing our collective disapproval of the name, my father continues to explain about the arm cannon.

"Here, we have the Chinese Arm Blaster. The Chinese call their base version, the 'Imperial Edict,' but we have done a few modifications. The Imperial Edict primarily works by super heating material and sending off as a high velocity molten object, cooling down rapidly as it whirs through the air. They have a variant that uses plasma, but our variation, the 'Star Maker' works on a different level. The Imperial Edict's plasma version uses cartridges that contain the gas to ignite into plasma, which it then shoots out like a flamethrower, while the Star Maker releases energy to turn the gasses inside into plasma. Once primed, it can then fire a blast which can travel up to a hundred meters.

"But that is not all. The Star Maker can change the size of the aperture to increase the velocity and distance of the blast, up to half a kilometer. While not exactly an 'all-range' attacker by loadout, it carries an extremely powerful propulsion system with a high top speed of mach two, though it takes about a minute to accelerate to that point."

So one is a fighter that breaks through the front line, while one is a guardian. As expected.

My father grins and turns the lights back on, turning towards us. "So," he begins, clapping his hands together. "The three of you are to receive one of these four suits each. However, of the two unnamed suits, I can only give one of them to Kaoru. Takashi, Minori, the two of you get to choose between Crest and Polaris."

My friend's both let out a groan of disappointment. Gee, thanks for making me seem like a spoiled kid. I sigh at the situation and ask my father a question that had been eating away at the back of my head for a while, "What exactly are you planning? This can't just be a birthday gift if you are giving it to my friends as well."

He lets out a defeated laugh and shrugs. "You got me, Kaoru. Dad has an experiment he is working on and this is going to help it. But don't worry, there is absolutely nothing sketchy going on here. These suits are coming out soon and I haven't put any sort of weird program into the CMS data."

That's sketchy as hell!

"Besides, haven't you been saying you wanted to get a suit for a long time? You want to be just like your brother, right?"

Grumbling, I look away. He probably heard that from mom. But he has a point. As much as I hate the idea of oweing my dad a favor and being part of an experiment, having a CMS of my own is honestly speaking a lot more to the pragmatist in me.

All that is left for me, is to pick one of those two suits. And honestly, for me it is an easy choice. I want to be like my brother; a hero that saves people. I want to save people.

So a form that serves the purpose of a guardian for my team is the natural choice. I look to my dad and tell him my decision, "One-UN-Four."

"I knew you'd take that," says my father as he points to another room. "Head there and we'll begin the installation. Takashi, Minori, what about you?"

My senior friend stands up and scratches the back of his head. "Well, I noticed that Koizumi-san seemed really eager when she saw Crest show up, so I'll let her take that one. Guess that leaves me with Polaris."

Minori lets out a small squeal of delight. "Thanks, Takachin! You're awesome!"

I sigh and follow my father's directions, Minori and Takashi in tow. After we are sat down in a chair that looks almost like a surgical table, my father explains the finer details of the process.

It's an overly complicated scientific speech, which basically boils down to saying three very simple things.

First, all CMS battles will be recorded for both EcoCrown Japan and personal reviewing. Second, we are only allowed to compete in places that are sanctioned by EcoCrown- basically, VR pubs. Finally, as part of the experiment, we are to show up back here every three months for a special status update.

That last part is the only part I don't quite get, but it probably doesn't matter.

"Alright, the data has been installed into your LINKs. All that is left, is for the information to unpack, which should be about fifteen to thirty minutes. But, you're now all free to go.

Thank God for that. I get up and make a brisk walk to the exit of the lab and to the elevator. I tap my foot as I wait for my friends, who trail behind me for a good minute, seeming bothered by something. "What's wrong?" I ask.

Minori shakes her head. "Don't worry about it," she says.

Takashi simply shrugs and looks at me as the elevator opens, "I was just asking your dad about a nearby VR Pub. Apparently, there is one only about ten minutes away and I was thinking if the two of you wanted to go with me?"

Minori and I both nod. We got the suits, so may as well take them out for a test ride. We quickly leave the facility and the EcoCrown Japan site, then follow Takashi's lead. Shinjuku is the CMS capital of Japan, so we should find some people around our age willing to have a round or two. Plus, considering how much money I have for my birthday, we might be able to even gamble on ourselves a little.

My heart is pounding though. In just a few minutes, I'll be fighting for the first time in a CMS. I'll be closer to my brother. I'll one day be able to stand on the same field as him and make him proud.

We step through the door and are greeted by all sorts of sights and sounds. In the center of the building, there is a snack bar with a menu of food ranging from cheap snacks like chips, to foreign street foods like poutine and even some super expensive delicacies like Kobe beef.

What the hell is with this culinary disparity?

The three of us all wander around, taking in the place for a bit. Scattered throughout the building, are people gathered around the VR pods. In each pod, there is a person hooked up inside, connected to the virtual world through their link. There are four different types of VR battles in this building, it seems. One-on-one, three-versus-three, tournament five-versus-five format, which all function as described, and the 'Free-for-All' style, where all pilots who are in a pod set up in a certain cluster are forced to fight until the timer clocks out. Typically, that time is twenty minutes.

As we walk, I lose myself in the atmosphere. So much so, that I don't even realize I walked by someone. Of course, when I say 'walk by,' what I really mean to say, is that my legs got caught up with that person's and we end up tripping over each other, both face planting on the ground.

The both of us quickly get up and I find myself glaring at an angry pretty boy. Brown hair in a cut like some idol, a fashionable button up shirt and expensive looking jeans. He narrows his eyes at me, "Watch where you're going!"

Wow, rude. With a wrinkled nose, I shout back, "Me? You're the one who walked into me!"

"Oh, right. My mistake, after all, I should be able to see what is right in front of my eyes. By the way, my eyes are on my chest."

What's this asshole's problem? I try to give him a shove, but he doesn't budge an inch. "Is that anyway to treat a person you just met? Grow up!"

He laughs at this and flicks me in the forehead. "Me? Grow up? Listen here, boy, I am your senior here. I'm turning sixteen tomorrow and in case you weren't aware, this VR Parlor has an age limit. Nobody under the age of twelve is allowed in."

After that, all I heard was the sound of Takashi and Minori flinching. The mouth on this guy continued to move, but I couldn't hear a word of it. I was too blinded by rage to care about what was coming out of that go of his, since he broke three of my 'rules.'

First, calling me a child. That alone is enough to send me into a verbal explosion. For starters, I'm just really short- maybe I am small enough to pass myself off as a middle schooler, but to call me younger than twelve? Bastard.

The second rule that he broke, was the flick on the forehead. Frankly, I'd be less upset with a punch because that at least shows an ounce of respect. You punch people because they do something that insults you, but a flick? That is just impossibly condescending. That would deserve a punch.

But the third one… oh, the third one just gets my blood boiling. Pulling my right leg back, I quickly swing it upwards in the middle of his speech, causing him to scream as he crumples to the ground, holding his crotch.

I lean down and glare at him before I really lay into him. "Excuse me? Did you just call me a little boy?" I ask. My anger and booming voice causes the immedieate crowd to turn their heads towards me and more people to gather around me. But to hell with them, like I care about that.

I point to my chest with my thumb, "You little shit, can't you tell by my voice? The way I'm speaking? I'm a sixteen year old girl, you dense jackass!"

The crowd goes silent at my proclamation and my heart begins to slowly return to a more 'natural' level of anger. It takes a minute before I realize something. I just kicked someone in the balls, in a VR pub, in the CMS capital city of Japan. A city that has a bit of a notorious habit of people watching others get dragged off into pods for gamble matches.

"Oh… crap."


Pilot Profile, Kaoru Taneshima

Sex: Female

Birthday (yyyy/mm/dd): 2110/08/04

Blood type: B-

Height: 142cm

BWH: 57-52-57 (Nobra!)

CMS: 1-UN-4

Hobby: Watching CMS battles, swimming

Favorite food: Daifuku

Most hated thing: Being called a boy, or mistaken for a child.

Kaoru Taneshima, the main heroine of our story. Despite her extremely boyish looks, she is most certainly a girl! Despite this, you would never guess that if you met her in the streets, due to use of masculine pronouns and rather loose fitting clothes. To mistake her as a boy in casual wear is exceedingly common. Her three personal rules, are 'Do not talk down to me,' 'Do not treat me like a child' and 'Do not call me a boy!'

Unfortunately for her, she is currently in puberty. There is such a thing as being too late a bloomer!

With all that said, she wishes to follow in her brother's footsteps and become a CMS pilot on his level. But she has a long way to go and it looks to be a rocky start! But even if she were to fail, she must not give up hope, for there is always a Brighter Tomorrow!


Apologies for the one or two followers for this story. I have rewritten this chapter about five times and lost motivation to continue. From this point on however, updates should happen at the very latest, once a month. Please, leave a review and point out any mistakes. I'll address them at the end of the next chapter if you have questions, or you can follow me on twitter KeitaKuhn for information.