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A Virtual Mekton story

"These are the names you wanted, Mrs. Aruko", said the man. He handed a folder through the car's window towards Aruko. "Kojiro Battou, a.k.a. Chiisai. He is the one of the female VM. Jaired Grey. He's the one of thetransforming tank. Akira Moto, with the walking plane. All information is there."

Aruko, best known as Tokyo Rose, was dissapointed at the man not using the proper Japanese way of adressing her, but choose not to say nothing. She would have plenty of time for that -later. She oppened the folder and browsed through it quickly. Names, adresses, aliases. Where they studied and when they played. All was there.

"So, these are the three kids who did cost us so much money last week", she said.

"Yes. Battou and Grey knew each other on a student exchange program. It is strange that Battou got into that program, he's got quite a record of troubles with his theachers at his former school."

"A troublemaker."

"Not quite", the man corrected her. "He had an habit of pointing out which theachers were cheating, and getting proofs. He caused two theachers to get started proceedings."

"A Qixote charging the windmills, then." Better still, thought Haruko. These are funier to crush.

"The Grey kid works at the Geocity's Arcade. The relevant information is on the file. The two usually play thogether, they are two up-and-coming on the VM circus. The first one is the tactical brain of the duo, and the Grey kid is the strategic genius, or so say his rep. Alone none of them is a real good pilot, but as a team they are pretty good."

"And what about the other, that..."

"Moto, Akira Moto. His family runs a videogames store at the same mall the Arena is. He's a newcommer on the VM circuit. It had to be sheer luck that he..." Haruko started to look angry, and the man choose to change subject. "His family is something of a celebrity, his brother was somewhat of a war hero and his father spent much money trying to locate him. They jump out on the TV sometimes. If you are to order us to do something about him, we sould take the usual measures to avoid the press."

"So ka. Minor anoyance only", said Haruko. She waited for the man to finish giving her his report. She took some mental notes about the kids. She finally gave some orders.

"That will be all. Take sure you do as I ordered. And also take sure that nothing of this report comes to the ears of Daiba. If he ask, he's to be told that you are still collecting the info. When, or if, I consider necesary for him to know what he wanted, you will hand him a copy of the report with only the data I told you to give him. Understand?"

"Yes, Mrs. Haruko." She closed the limmo's window. The car left. The man turned towards the parking's elevator and left, too.

From behind a concrete column, Isamu Daiba turned off the deafman's earfones he was wearing. "It's surprising the way one of these helps you to hear what you were supposed not to", he thought. He lighted a cigar with his zippo and left the parking lot by the other elevator.

A day later.

Akira was happy. He was always when he was driving his small motorbike. It was not as fast as others, but he loved the wind on his face. It was one of the few moments when he was not feeling bad.

He turned a corner to the right, waiting at a red light on the next cross. The car that was behind him didn't come to his height, but stopped behind him instead. When the light turned green, he turned right again, going by the street paralel to the one he was before but on the oposite direction. The car turned behind him. "How strange, he's undoing the way he just made", thought Akira. He was just driving about, but he didn't know of people loving to drive black big cars for fun. He pushed these thoughts aside and turned left. It was a one-way alley, so he stopped the engine and pushed his bike through the sidewalk to the next street. When he reached the next street, he saw the same car coming around the block. Now that was strange. That guy was either lost or following him.

"Don't be idiot", he thought. "Why is anyone going to follow you?", he said to himself. Anyway, just for fun, he waited for the next red light, then turned around and drove the way he just came.

Much to his surprise, the big black car also turned around.

Noe /that/ was serious! Akira was certain by now that the car was following him. "Oh, yeah!, And now what I should do?" He considered some options. He discarded running full throttle; his small motorbike was not rival for a big sedan. He also discarded stopping again and letting him pass; he didn't know what this guy (or guys) wanted and was NOT going to take chances. Finally, he came to a solution.

He drove towards the Geocity Police Department building and stopped before the main door. The car didn't stop, and Akira saw the driver's frustrated gesture through the dark window. Akira turned around his stopped bike and dashed the opposite way towards an alley. He could imagine the face of the unknow driver having to drive towards the next row instead of making an U-turn instead of the very noses of the Police.

By the time the man managed to turn around without being pinched, Akira was nowhere to be seen.

A few minutes later, Akira ended taking a ride and drove towards the Kurosawa High building. He parked in front of the main door, shouldered the bag that he was carrying on the bike and headed for the school's gymnasium.

He meet Kojiro Battou at the gymnasium room that doubled as dojo. "Hi, Chiisai", he saluted. "Did I made you to wait too long?"

"Hi, Akira. Only a bit, I was late myself", answered the other kid. "Good place. We have no building habilited as dojo at Intron, nor I had at my old school. Thank you very much for the invitation, Akira-kun."

"Yes it is cool, right", answered Akira heading for the changing room. Chiisai followed him. Both kids changed clothes into gis and hakamas and took two bokkens from the school's stores. "And our theacher is very kind on letting us to use it the weekends. Can't you use your school's instalations?"

"Only the open ones", said Chiisai. "The football field, the baskets... But not the gymnasium." They started a quick warm-up, then both kids saluted each other. "What style do you use?"

"Toyama-ryu. It's the kind of swordplay that was theached on the old Japanese army. They still teach it for sport. My brother told me the basic moves. And you?"

"Muso-shinden-ryu, an old Iaido school. I also learned some European fencing. Spanish school."

"Spanish? I thought the ones theached at fencing schools were French and Italian."

"I found it by chance. My theacher was a man called Narvaez with a rather theoretic attitude towards fencing, (*) but rather good. Fencing is of little use with a katana, but don't try to make me a tsuki", he said smiling. "But I had to stop when I changed home last time. I'm glad to find again a place where I can practice for free."

At this moment Akira straigthened and saluted to someone behind Chiisai. The later turned his head and saw an old, bald man dressing on a school's tracksuit. Chiisai bowed, too. The man returned the bow. "Good morning, Moto. I see you keep practicing. Good. Who's your friend?"

"He's Kojiro Battou. He's training with me", said Akira, choosing not to say that Kojiro wasn't a Kurosawa student. It wasn't anything wrong since he was with him, and /he/ was, but better play it safe.

"Kojiro Battou? That name is familiar to me..." Chiisai braced himself; after the troubles he had with other theachers on the past, he had somewhat of a bad rep among them... "It reminds me of an old student of me." Chiisai relaxed. "He had a nasty habit of speaking on silly metaphors even bigger than mine own... But I'm digressing. Never mind. All right, boys, continue your training." He saluted, the kids bowing back, and followed to his office. "And give my regards to the Intron sports theacher, Chiisai", said as an afterthought.

"Yes, sir", answered the later. It took a second or two for him to notice that they hadn't told him that he was an Intron student, nor his nickname. "Who's him?"

"He's my sports theacher", said Akira on a proud voice. "He's a cool man. We can use the dojo the weekends thanks to him. He also teach us some martial arts."

"He's got a strange look, didn't he?" said Chiisai remembering the short, bald oldman wearing a green tracksuit.

"Yes, I have to admit that he looks less than impressive, but he seems to like that look". Akira rolled his eyes. "He's from someplace of south China, maybe they dress that way there."

The next two hours, both kids trained thogether. They practiced their kata, each one taking good mental note of the basic moves of the other's style. Akira's school was based mainly on diagonal cuts, while Kojiro's was on straight downward ones. They were diferent enough as to be interesting for both of them.

"OK, I'm tired enough for today", said Akira. "Let's hit the showers. I'm sorry I was late, but believe it or not, I was being followed by a car! I had to lose it."

"You kidding?"

"Not at all. It was almost like a movie."

"Curious... I was late myself because I thought I was being followed, too. A big black sedan. It managed to make me nervous, too! I finally had to climb down a stair with my mountain bike to lose it. Maybe we both are paranoid?"

"I don't think so, I doubt ALL our suppossed friends are really plotting to kill us."

"You are so great a consuel for my peace of mind..."

On their way out, both kids had to pass right in front of the theacher's office. They heard some high-pitched, short shrieks coming from a speaker, and when Chiisai turned his head he had time to see Bruce Lee's face for a second just before the man turned the small TV off, actually blushing. Akira was making efforts to keep his face straight, but his eyes had an amused expresion.

Once outside the school, the other kid asked him. "What was so funny before?"

"Our theacher loves old Bruce Lee movies."

"Me too. But what's funny about this, and why he turned the TV off so quick?"

"He was watching 'Fist of Fury'."

"I saw. I love that movie, with Lee-sensei playing costumes! But I still can't see why he turned the TV off."

Akira smiled. "He fears that we Japanese students could feel unease."

Chiisai stared incredously at him. "Why?"

Akira was almost laughing. "Because the Japanese are the bad guys of the movie. He's TOO way polite! He would feel unease watching an American 'Russians-are-the-bad-guys' movie in front of Alexei!... glad we have no Spaniard students at Kurosawa."


This time, Akira laughed out loud. He managed to say, "Because Canal 7 is showing a cycle of pirate's movies!"

(*) A premium for anyone recognizing the in-joke

Later, at the Arcade

Akira paid his gaming fee. "Pod three", Maki told him. "The battle is set for you two alone on the 'Day at the Beach' arena."

Akira boarded the pod and slotted the disc. He ran a quick pre-flight and waited for the game to start. As always, the anticipation was relaxing his mind instead of making him nervous. He thought for a second about Kojiro. Both kids knew each other from only a week ago, but by now they were good friends. But Akira was not sure what to think about him. He was such a diferent person inside and outside the VRcade... he was normally serious enough, but the moment he placed a foot on the Arcade, he started making bad taste jokes to any of his friends that were whithin range. He seemed to be particularly fond of tormenting Jenny. What was even stranger was that most kids choose to answer the jokes instead of telling him to shut up... diversion or desperation? He was himself not fond of wity remarks, he usually found them silly, but there were a few times he was on the verge of letting one slip... The game computer's voice bring him back to reality. "Sort of."

The Windwalker, on Fighter mode, rolled around a small virtual cloud and dove towards its target. Akira struggled with the controls, but the sound of the enemy missile lock-on sounded on his cockpit. The Windwalker fired, and Akira was unable to dodge. He fired his own Windwalker's antimissile laser, hitting the missile on the last second, the nearby explossion making his VM to tremble. The other VM climbed out of its dive below him, out of his firing arc. Akira kicked the throttle to get some distance to turn, then braked and rolled his plane 90-odd deegres port and pulled the stick hard, flaps full open to sharp his turn radius, full throttle at the end of the turn to close it even more. He got Chiisai on his sights almost head on, a 170 deegres aproach, and fired him a long burst. A few bullets did hit the plane, ricocheting on the torso and right wing armor but without causing severe damage.

Then Kojiro did something that fully amazed Akira. He stopped his plane on the very air! Then, having thus avoided most of Akira's burst, he started flying backwards, firing all the way. He managed this way to keep his nose pointed towards Akira a much longer time than Akira did towards him, turning his VM counter-clockwise as the other kid flew past. Akira's Windwalker got several chaingun hits on the torso, then exploded.

"<And this is a 2-2 draw again>", radioed Chiisai. Once again at the starting point, ready for the "Final Fight!" message, Akira couldn't help but ask.

"<How in the heck did you /that/?>"

"<Don't tell me you didn't know your VM was able to fly backwards>", asked Chiisai.

"<Actually, I didn't, and I designed it!>"

"<Well, it's got an Hybrid configuration code, so it could handle on the air almost as good as an Humanoid one can. Really you did never try?>"

"<Really. I come from flight simulators, the other day was my very first VM game>."

"<Nobody would tell, seeing how hot you fly>."

"<I told you that I came from flight simulators, and I used to fight against a real military pilot and win... " Akira's voice weakened. He returned to normal a moment later. "It seems to me that I'm too used to jet fighters. I'm losing too many things of this game!>"

The "Final Fight!" message flashed on their cockpits, and both kids headed towards their fifth, decisive duel. But this time, was Akira's turn to surprise his rival. He simply landed at a proper place, stood on Walker mode and opened on Chiisai as he strafed him. With the help of the cover and not having to worry about crashing, he was able to put a much more acurate and intense fire than Chiisai, who was so surprised of Akira fighting from the ground that almost forgot to fire. His VM exploded under Akira's chaingun and missiles.

"<And that is 3-2. Ball, set, match!>"

At the burger shop

"What do you think about my Windwalker, Kojiro? I know you're a good designer and I'd like to hear your opinion. If you don't mind giving it", Akira asked the other kid as they were sitting at the burger shop, eating and drinking.

"It's a cool plane", Chiisai answered. "You've got a very imaginative design, Akira. You know, it's the first transformable VM I saw that is got a /smaller/ code than if it wasn't transforming?" Akira smirked at him. "And it's full of tricks to save space and code size. But it could be improved on some things."

"For example?"

" First of all, why do you have internal wing missiles and empty weapon mounts?"

"Because I plan to fill them soon. I still just didn't code for the missiles I want, but I'm coding a new missile type each night or two that I have time. I just wanted to have a place for them on my pla... on my Mek", he corrected himself. His mind had just readjusted.

"But why didn't you simply put the wing missiles on the mounts or simply didn't code for the mounts untill they are full?"

"Because I wanted to have a VM able to be configurated just before each mission."

"That's not what I asked, I ask why you coded for the mounts BEFORE having something to place on them."

"I'm lazy", said Akira shrugging. "I wanted not to have to change it later."

"As you wish... And you've got a rather fragile craft. Next time you upgrade it, you could use some defensive system."

"I know. I just don't know how to properly use EW systems."

"A shield, maybe?"

"More probable".

"Anyway. Also, the chaingun's got a high ROF, but it's too high for my taste." Akira raised an eyebrow. "With such a high a ROF, you still need a shoot much better than your rival's dodge to place all the shots, and if you get a shoot so good, he's on trouble anyway."

Akira noded. "What do you sugest?"

"I would reduce the ciclic fire rate some 20%. It's still quite a punch, enough to properly engage multiple targets, and with the code size spared you could improve the gun's damage, or maybe give it AP ammo. Or pay your defencives. Your turn. What do you think of Cora now that you had a chance of flying her?"

"It's a hell of a VM", said Akira. Chiisai seemed not to like the answer.

"It? IT!?" He looked absolutely angry. Akira corrected himself quickly.

"I'm sorry, I meant 'SHE is a hell of a VM'." Kojiro still looked migthily offended. Boy, what a Ozaky complex that guy had! "But I have to ask one thing about her", chanced Akira.

"What thing?"

"Why had you to code for that computer voice? It's neccesary to have i... her to say, 'I'm hurt, meanie!' each time there is internal damage and append a 'darling' to two out of each three pilot warnings?", he dared to ask.

As an answer, Chiisai smirked at him.

Akira choose to let it be.

Both kids finished their burgers and sodas and get up. At that moment, someone chided them.

"You, Batta, don't tell me that you're now playing with the begginers!"

"Am I? Oh, me, I don't remember when I played with you today, but if you say I did, I probably did", answered Chiisai without even turning the head. He sighed. Why */*!8< this always came to him...

"Who's that guy?", asked him Akira.

"He's Braddock, a stupid bully. He pilots a monstruosity called MegaSmasher."

"The one that was the first kill on that multiplayer game?" Akira remembered the sheer code size of that VM and shuddered.

"The same. And he's got as big a brain as a piloting skill", pointed Chiisai.
By now, Braddock had placed himself betwen the kids and the door. "What do you mean?"

"Me, Braddock, I think it's clear. I mean that I probably have a bad memory if you say I'm playing with begginers today because I don't remember fighting with you today", answered Chiisai. He tried to slip past the other kid, but Braddock moved to block him.

"Don't repeat the same thing! Are you trying to sugest that I'm a begginer?"

"Me", Akira whispered to Chiisai, "he took two trys to understand it!"

"Yes", Chiisai whispered him back, "he's so brilliant". He feigned a inocent smile. "Me, did I that? Now that you say it..."

Braddock didn't feign the angry face. "I don't allow you to insult me that way!"

"And then, what way do you want?"

Akira rolled his eyes. What an habit of using old movie lines had that guy...

Braddock started shouthing incoherencies at them. Akira feared him trying to get physical any moment, but by the time both kids managed to get anything clear from Braddock's rambling, they understood that he wanted to smash Kojiro and that he challenged him to a one-on-one duel at the pods.

Chiisai smirked. "I do not accept. It would not be fair. I've got too good a VM for you... understand it, Braddock, I want to spare you of a public, humilliating defeat! Besides, it would be bad for my rep to kill begginers." Braddock turned red, then purple, then started crying "coward" at him. "I advice you to take air, else you could suffocate.... but, wait a moment. I've got an idea... Akira, you've got a 150-sized VM you just designed for your very first fight, don't you?"


"Then there is nothing more to speak. I do acept your challenge, Braddock, but not with the mighty Cora. She would eat you for breakfast even without me piloting." ('Boy', once again thougth Akira, 'what an Ozaky syndrom's got that guy'). "I do acept your challenge" followed Chiisai "but I'll pilot my friend's newbie VM -if he allows me to use it, against your MegaSmasher or whatever you can muster! That way the combat would be closer to a fair fight. Not quite, but something's better than nothing. Akira, do you allow me to use your Windwalker?"

Right now, the only thing refraining Braddock from hitting him was that he was caught on his own challenge. Akira rolled again his eyes. "Yes." He produced a game disk. "There is it, Kojiro." Chiisai took the disk, then walked around Braddock towards the exit. Braddock stood still for a second, a big sweatdrop on his nape, not quite believing, then he turned and hurried to catch the kid on his way towards the pods. By now, Akira's eyes were half-stuck rolled up. He sighed and followed them.

"Kojiro", said him after catching Chiisai, "are you crazy? Do you really want to fight him and that lumbering monstruosity of his with my plane?"

"Don't worry, Akira, everything's under control". Akira didn't look very convinced. "He's got a gun big enough that not even Cora's shield and armor would be of use. My best defence would be maneuverability, and your Windwalker is nimbler than Cora. And it's got the wing missiles. They are almost as powerful as Cora's gun."

"But you only have four of them."

"Then I have three to spare!" Chiisai smirked at him. Akira forced his eyes to return to their normal resting place. "Don't be worried. He's a piot so bad that I could best him even if he were to pilot Cora (Heavens forbid!) Besides, if I win with a newbie VM, he'll be utterly humilliated, and if I lose, I won't, 'cause they'll blame it on your puny newbie VM."

"How kind of you." Akira stressed the words.

"It's what they would say. Not what I think. I wouldn't ask you your Mek if it were a bad one."

"But then, why on the Hell are you acepting a fight with him?"

"'Cause if not, I would have to fight him on the real world", said Chiisai. His eyes narrowed. "And besides, it's something... 'personal' behind this." Akira figured what it could be.

Chiisai handed the disk to Jaired, who was behind the RED. "Hi, Jaired. Where is Maki?"

"She left rather quickly as soon as she heard you two shouting and left me at the RED, I think she wants to make some wages".

"Figures. Please, gimme..."

"...a locked two-players fight at the Level 120", joked Jaired.

Chiisai laughed. The MegaSmasher had no flight. "Now, /that/ would be funny to watch... but I'll ask you the Golden Darkness, defence guns deactivated. If you Braddock like it", he said to Braddock, who came just in time to hear the arena setting.

"Fine", he said amidst groans.

By now, most people at the VRcade was paying atention to them. Maki having put a big neon holosign anouncing the duel betwen them could have something to do with that. Akira watched both rivals to enter their pods, then he searched for a good watching place. He saw Isami entering the VRcade holding the arm of a girl he didn't know personally, but that he knew as a fellow Kurosawa High student. He was about to wave them, then recalled that Isami wouldn't see that and the other girl didn't knew him. He walked to them.

"Good evening, Isa."

"Good evening, Akira. Did you know my friend Rio?"

Akira looked at her. "No, I don't -not personally, but I knew her of sight from my school." He turned to Rio. "How do you do?"

Rio's greeting was polite, but cold. "How do you do? Please, could you tell us what is that turmoilt?"

"It's a formal duel. That Braddock guy" -Isami's eyes grew hard- "just challenged Kojiro to a duel." Isami's eyes brightened, but Rio's grew harder than gemstones. "That bully challenged our friend" -Akira used the plural with all intention- "because Kojiro told him that he's the begginer when he was laughing at him for playing with that humbly begginer of yours", he told them.

"So ka. And then he rushed to fight." There was more than a hint of contempt on Rio's voice for that bully-men attitude.

"Not quite. He tried to leave, but Braddock didn't allow him. It was either a virtual fight or a real one."

"I'm surprised he managed to avoid the punches this time", said Isami smiling. "But yes, he's not the one to avoid a fight."

"What a pair of bullys. I don't see what interest can this duel have", said Rio.

"Kojiro's got some rep as a 'good guy gamer' but most bullys hate him, and he's got a wit dificult to endure, too", explained Isami, "and Braddock's got a bad rep, period, 'cause he's the foremost bully among them. Both of them's got people wanting to see them defeated and people wanting them to win -out of either friendship or soapiness."

Rio didn't look very convinced. "So ka." For her, they were just a pair of rude bullyes throwing testostherone around.

"It's not gonna be a good fight, but it's gonna be a 'good guys against bad guys' fight for certain people", summarized Isami. "So Cora is about to smash the 'Smasher."

"No! He asked me the Windwalker!", said Akira.

"Nani?!" Isami's face was utterly surprised.

"Yes. I think he's cra..." before he could even finish the sentence, Isami was ransacking on her purse for her rarely-used magnificator glasses and rushing to the holovid, dragging a surprised Rio from the arm and opening her way among the crowd like a express train. Akira almost failed to catch her.

By the time they got near enough of the holovid for Isami to see something, the battle was almost joined. They did catch it just in time to see the "Fight!" message flashing on the screen. Both VMs were standing on a vast plain, covered with buildings with turrets on the roofs, each one a few clicks from the other. Isami grinned. That was Jaired's doing; he knew the Smasher's sensor range was awfull short. Chiisai evidently knew, too, cause he took the air and circled towards a place 1 Km at the right of the Smasher, just outside sensor range. Then he took the ground and radioed, "<Braddock, just to be fair, I tell you that we started outside your sensor range. I'm about to enter it right now. I don't want even more unafair advantages that I already have!>" Braddock insulted him.

Isami actually laughed out loud. "That's Kojiro for you! He's renouncing to the advantage he had on exchange of having Braddock even more out of balance, but he's entering the sensor range from a diferent place that Braddock expected! What he's doing right now? I say, Braddock."

"He's charging forward", answered Rio. Isami's smile grew even bigger.

Two minutes later, Chiisai had walked his VM almost to Braddock's rear, using the buildings to cover him. The other player had been fooled by the kid's insultingly simple trick, evidently running towards where he thought the Windwalker would be instead of watching the sensors to see where it really /was/. Isami started a countdown. When she reached "zero", Chiisai fired a long chaingun burst against Braddock. "<Seeyaaaaaaaaaa!>" Before the lumbering Smasher could turn around, the hungry red tracers of the high-speed cannon took huge chunks of the larger VM's armor. Braddock turned and fired his monstruous gun, hold before him with both hands on firing grips and protuding from the shoulders and chest, vaporizing the building the Windwalker had hidden itself behind and the two adjacent ones, but by now Chiisai was nowhere to be seen. At least for him to see, the public clearly saw him transforming and jumping to safety behind another building.

For the next forty seconds, Chiisai played cat-and-mice with Braddock, eating almost all the Smasher's armor with the chaingun and managing an armor penetration each time; he failed to take the huge, exposed gun (altough he hit the barrel) nor its many weapon mounts out, but he managed to cut the punny-to-begin-with sensors out of comission, hit the already-unstable powerplant and finally even put one of the rival's leg temporally out of action. Still, by now Braddock was kneeling on a clearing surrounded by rubbles, all the buildings around ruined. "<Now you don't have any cover!!>", he roared.

"Nor you", thought Akira.

"<Nor you.>" The Windwalker took the air, easily dodging the powerful but clumsy weapon's fire, and circled around him a few times, only to show him that he was able to move faster than the slow VM could bring his gun to bear; then, as yet another energy clip went dry, Chiisai hovered just before the Smasher. "<How's that thing that Akira says?>"

"Bye-bye." That was Isami! Chiisai heard her by the external "radio chat" channel and suddenly got a better idea, knowing she was watching. Instead of targetting Braddock's chest, he targetted his gun. Betwen laughs, most of his friends at the VRcade joined in. "Bye-Bye!" Chiisai fired. The missile hit square center, the gun exploded. "<Game over>", he said. He turned his plane and flew, slowly, almost relaxedly, to his starting point.

"Come back there and fight, you coward!", shouthed Braddock by the external speakers. Chiisai was already almost a click ago. "I'm not finished, yet!"

That was what Chiisai was waiting for. As an afterthought, he turned his plane around and neglectedly fired another missile, at the weapon's extreme range. "As you wish", he said, and turned his plane again to leave. Three seconds later, he heard a large explosion behind him. "You happy?"

Outside the pods, Isami was almost bursting with laugther.

Chiisai stepped out of the pod and looked around. He saw Isami and Akira and waved them. Akira pointed him to Isami and she waved back. Smiling, he aproached them.

"Good evening, Isami. I heard you watching me."

"Evening, Kojiro."

"Do you feel better now", chided him Akira. He was evidently sharing much of Rio's feelings about the fight. As an answer, Chiisai breathed deeply with a show of relief. Akira forced himself not to make theatrical gestures with the eyes.

Rio stepped in. "So now you bully bullys, Battou."

"Hi, Rio. Bully-bully... that was a song, right?"

Rio sweated, but she aknowleged she had made it easy.

Isami rolled her eyes. She /knew/ bot her friends were bound to get to each other (Kojiro's idea of a joke and Rio's man-hate were not the most stable mix), but they could at least try to get by... She rode to the rescue.

"Kojiro, I want you to take me to the burger shop to drink a sode -now. That's an order!"

"Yes, Drill Sergeant!", mocked him, but he offered her his arm. "Akira, Rio..."

"Seeya later", said Akira. As the other two kids left, he turned to Rio. "Please Rio, do you know how the tests of the Maths theacher tend to be?..."

Back at the burger shop

"You happy, Kojiro? Did you enjoy this bloomer?"

"No. I only tried to avoid what comes now". Isami stared at him. "Now he comes and tries to punch me."

"But Kojiro, if you knew he would fight you anyway, why did you that?"

He knew perfectly why he did that. "Because I'm afraid of physical pain and I tried to delay the fight", he lied. Still, Isami knew better. Much better.

"Kojiro, Kojiro... what I'm going to do with you?" She took his hand. The kid refrained a gasp, but she heard him anyway. "But don't worry, my knight, for We, your Queen, shall do our best to keep you from entering so many combats." To its credit, Chiisai's hearth managed not to stop.

Much to their surprise, they were not bothered at the burger shop. They finished their sodas and left to retur to the pods with their friends.

As soon as they hit the stairs, Braddock intercepted them.

"Where do you think you're going, Batta?"

Isami kneed him in the groin.

Braddock's eyes went out their sockets, his mouth pursing. Isami paid atention to his high-pitched shriek with expert's ear, then kneed once again, just to be sure. Braddock fell like a poleaxed bull.

Wide eyed, a really surprised Kojiro Battou stared incredously at Isami, his face the mask of sheer disbelief. "Na... na... nani?!?!?"

"I said you, I'll do my best to keep you from picking so many fights." Testing her way with her cane around Braddock's fallen body, Isa followed towards the VRcade, still holding Chiisai's arm.


Story writen by LITTLE LOCUS