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FREE FOR ALL
A Virtual Mekton Story


"Coming In"

Akira Moto was waiting. He was sitting on the stairs of the mall, looking at his clock from time to time. He still had fifteen minutes left to kill. He get up and headed for the soda machine. He was not specially thirsty, but it would help to kill the time until he was ready.



Isamu Daiba revved up his bike's engine. He was feeling like a child doing something stealthy. That was ridiculous, of course. For some reason, he didn't feel like fighting for money today. Today he wanted only to relax, to fly freely, to fire his guns on a target-rich environment without that Haruko woman reminding him that he was expected to win in order for her friends to win, too. That was the reason he was driving his bike towards a God-forsaken VM arcade on South Tokyo. Here he would rent a pod and network it into somewhere interesting. Still, the fact he was gonna play for his own account instead of getting paid for playing as he was supposed to do might seem a bit extrange to certain people. Naturaly, he didn't give a blast.

He stopped at a red light. He took use of the pause to check his electronic agenda. Mmm... the most interesting VM event today was the Geocity's "BFFA Day". A multiplayer last-man-standing on a random arena. He checked his clock. He had still a few minutes left. The light turned green, and Isamu speed up (maybe with a bit of an exhibicionistic jolt) towards the arcade.



Kojiro "Chiisai" Batou headed his mountain bike towards the wide stairs descending from the main street to the mall's parking lot. He started to climb them down cautiously - then, after making sure the mall's security wasn't looking and no one else could get hurt, released the brakes. He bounced stairs down like on a rocky trail, braked on the proverbial dime once again at street level (maybe with a bit of an exhibicionistic skid), and pedaled towards the bikes parking.

Isami Shinzato's entry on the VM arcade was much calmer, tough. She came out of the bus holding Jenny's arm, saluted the little old lady whom they had offered her seat, who was also getting out of the bus at the mall, and headed towards where Jaired Grey was already waiting for them and Chiisai to come.



Ten minutes later, the doors of the Geocity's VM arcade oppened. About two dozens players were waiting to enter, Tamiyka and Alex (arguing, as always) among them. 'Auzzie' greeted them, wearing his ever present soda.

"Hi, guys. Are you ready to cop it?"

"Don't tell me you're actually gonna enter that sorry excuse for a true VM of yours on a real multiplayer open fight", coldly answered Tamiyka. Boy, that girl sure hated to be interrupted when arguing with Alex!

"Why, 'Sundown', yes, I..."

"She told you, DON'T tell her you're..."

"Very funny, Alex. A least my VM doesn't have the same problem yours had last time you tried to climb down an overhang... how tall it was?"

"One hundred and fifty meters. At least I /was/ able of holding, unlike others who still had not coded for hands. And it was not my fault it collapsed, I did not cheat so outrageously on weight emulation as you did."

"Maybe you coded your VM to be as air-full as that soda-gut of yours", added Tamiyka.

'Auzzie' thougth for a moment of telling them that they looked like the perfect couple, but wisdom's voice stopped him. "None of that's really my fault mates. You know the Magi series is an over the counter design. Maginot One happened to be a beta version that wasnt even supposed to be sold. When Blackguard found out, they gave me a free upgrade to the "real" version." Tamiyka started to say something else, but fortunatelly, Arnold and 'Mustard' came to the rescue, taking Alex and "Sun Down" with them into the arcade.



Isa heard something behind her. "Good morning, Chiisai."

"Someday you'll have to tell me how are you capable of recognizing my footsteps among all these noise", answered Chiisai as a greeting. "Good morning, Jenny, good morning, Jaired. Ready for The Great Day?"

"Why, yes, we were waiting for it from two weeks, we better be ready", answered Jaired. "Which VM are you gonna use for today's Big-Free-For-All?"

"Cora", said Isa. Jenny laughed.

Chiisai managed to look not too guilty. "Why, yes, Cora, my sweet Cora. And you?"

"I'm sticking with the Gatillo, I'm almost as in love with that VM as you're with yours - or maybe not exactly as you are", chided Isa.

"What's up, it's 'let's pick on Chiisai' day or what?"

"You asked, remember?" returned Jaired. "I'm using the Archon again."

"On and off, on and off, on and off, you're worse than me. At least my VM is fe..." Jenny's unprintable reply silenced Chiisai while Jaired turned red. "OK, OK, I yield before violence. C'mon, guys, let's pay the fee and board the pods.", conceded Chiisai.

The four kids headed towards the registration desk.

"Hi, guys, are you gonna play today?", Maki greeted them on the way to the Registration & Entry Deck (RED). She was wearing a flight jacket (many kids used these, just for the looks) and carried VR gear and datagloves.

"Hi, Maki", greeted Isa. "Aren't you on the RED"

"No, today I'm gonna play with the other Knights, so my father is running the deck. Tell me, Jenny, isn't your boyfriend jealous of you always hanging with these two boys? Jenny's eyes grew hard, but before she managed to speak Isa chided both of them.

"No, her handsome and rich boyfriend actually regrets her always being there so you can't try a pass at him", she joked.

Jaired and Chiisai had enough survival sense to say nothing as the three girls started a round of verbal fencing.



At the Leechman Academy, Ronnie "Rotten" Richards IV cursed silently his schoolmates' stupidity. "Are you finished or what! We're five minutes behind schedule because of your incompetence!"

"Only two minutes more, the code compilation is almost finished", said 'Nerd' from his keyboard.

"Two minutes, two minutes... is saying that the only thing you know how to say? I don't know why I allow you to remain in my exclusive club!"

Because you /need/ me to program your VMs, you incompetent idiot who thinks the 'intro' key is the one needed to start a presentation, thought 'Nerd', altough he obviously was wise enough not to say it aloud. "Finished. You can board your pod now."

Richards let his aide finish adjusting his expensive VR kit, then boarded his networked pod.



Akira finished his soda. He was waiting in the VM queue just before a grandmotherly-looking old lady, who probably was keeping the turn for her grandson. He patted his pouch, where Windwalker's game disk was. He knew most of the other kids only by sight, not by name, so he exchanged no greetings -nor verbal daggers- while waiting. He paid his registration fee, handed the game disk to the arcade's owner and waited for it to be virus-checked. He looked up to the electronic score marker. There were the 30 pods in the arcade, and four other players remotely connected. He readed the names: R. Richards, "Maverick", Abdel Hadi and even Shougo Izumi. The last was the only name he knew. What a honor. The very VM game's designer was joining them today.

He looked at one of the people beside him, a guy wearing a trenchcoat and sunglasses. "Gods, he's my English teacher! Does think he actually fools anyone with that stupid 'disguise'?!" More problems, the man had a good VM but was a bad pilot; still, Akira didn't feel like taking the risk of downing him... one never knows...



Natsumi and Lei-Ming came running to the arcade, giggling. They were almost late. The two friends didn't need to queue, as almost all the people had already registered. They managed to get the last two empty VM pods.

Lei-Ming knew some of the people on the arcade by name, but she didn't really have a close friend among them, other than Natsumi. Today's fight was an open fight, last-man-surviving, but she and her friend Natsumi planned to team-up for most of the time.

Natsumi boarded her pod. There were only two other pods still open, Lei-Ming's and another one. She looked for a moment to the gamer inside the open pod. She was the "Black Lady". Natsumi was somewhat scared for the black-dressed woman, always behind her reflective black glasses. She had somewhat of a nasty reputation inside the game, and some people said that outside it, too. "No trouble, I'm better than she is!", she thought. As an afterthought, she recalled than if the "Black Lady" was here, then Kyozo Iwazaki, "The King", probably would be, too. Now that was a Problem, with a capital 'P'. "The King" was still the best, and that freak Black Lady was always going berserk on anyone who bothered his six. Natsumi started thinking that Kelly Iwazaki, Kyozo's wife, could be jealous of the black-clad gamer's devotion to her husband. Kyozo idolatred his wife, it was no secret, but still...

She resolutely pushed these thoughts aside, as they were not of her concern. She concentrated on the fight at hand instead. Smiling, she slotted the Illumina's disk.



Once inside her pod, the little old lady, screen name Pasadena, put on her Deluxe VR Kit helmet and datagloves and slotted a game disc stencilled "TERRIBLE ONI GARGUAN", grinning in a somehow less-than-grandmotherly way.



"Welcome To The Fray"

Akira started system checks once again. Windwalker's simulated cockpit was cold, the sensors marked an outer temperature of 0 Farenheit. 'Cold wind and hot fire'. Proper for his mood. He turned the CD player on, slotted an old CD, selected the last track ("Master of the Wind") and activated the 'repeat' function. He enjoyed the song while waiting. He enjoyed it again. Then the waiting ended and the hanger's doors opened.

His fighter was lifted by the elevator to the main deck of the carrier. He saw a frozen sea surrounding him. "So, today's 'random arena' is a cross betwen the Gulf and the Russian Front... air to fly and flat ice to run. Dangerous to be on land. Today will be a flying arena, I've got somewhat of an advantage..."

A glowing red number started blinking on his field of vision. It was a countdown. Akira stomped on the brakes and kicked the engines full open. When the count reached zero, he released the brakes. Windwalker was catapulted towars the sky, climbing at a 70 deegres step. He leveled at 5,000 and started looking his radar.

Blink. One contact, then another, as the other kids entered the simulation. They were appearing from the carriers, dropping from the sky, exiting from caves on the ice. He glanced at a counter. 34 players... no, 33. The first kill had been very quick. He read the tag. "Bye, Mega Smasher", he muttered with a grin. He started looking for victims. First deal with airborne targets, then go for the groundbound ones.



Cora swept down again. The Archon followed. Sure, Jaired was being stubborn. The Archon's fire could not penetrate Cora's shield, only his bombs and sword would do the trick, but still Jaired chose to pick on his friend instead of looking for other targets. Chiisai looked closer at his target analyzer, paled, and started frantically turning. A huge gun, belly-mounted on the Archon's weapon mount, started firing, vaporizing an equally huge chunk of the ice below.

"<Jaired, I thought you told me you got rid of that huge megadisruptor when you weren't able of fitting it into your VM>", radioed Chiisai

"<Oh, me, I did, didn't I?>" answered Jaired betwen bursts. "<I just happened to find a way of cramming it into the weapon mount in place of the bombs!>" Jaired's laughter turned maniacal. He followed Cora's every move, blasting away with his gun. Any hit would overload Cora's shield for sure, a second would get massive internal damage on all servos. Chiisai climbed, then dove, then rolled to the side, frantically trying to shake him from his tail. Jaired followed. Then he got sight of Cora again. The female VM was stopped in midair, right before a looming iceberg. Jaired tried to dodge, but on the Hunter-Killer configuration his VM was not quite as nimble as the humanoid ones.

Chiisai waved him past and smiled.

The Archon dove head-first into the iceberg, boring a deep tunnel into the ice. Fortunately, the pinpoint shield took the brunt of the impact, but he was trapped anyway. Jaired spent a few seconds cursing Chiisai, himself, and his own custom of getting buried on ice, then spent a few seconds more waiting for Chiisai to finish him. He keep waiting, surprised.

Chiisai had no time to finish his friend. "The King's" Excalibur had just entered the fray, and he was NOT gonna remain stationary with that pilot around. Not this time, not again, and not at all, period.



Akira dodged the fire. The VM behind him looked like a fighter, too, but his target analizer showed him it was not a custom-built model but a stock one with a custom appearance. It was armed with lots of missiles, though. Akira easily dodged a big salvo, his rear-firing AMS taking care of another. He started a scissors. His opponent was faster but he was nimbler. He reverted the tail with ease, got his rival on his sights, hosed him with lead. The fighter started smoking, spiralling down, after the first burst.

Then he got another close blip: a much nimbler VM, humanoid, with similar speed. It was heading right towards him, climbing from behind. He turned his fighter and dove towards his new target.

Isa's cockpit filled with acustic alarms when her sensors detected the spotting radar targetting her VM. ?Oh, well, so much for my surprise attack. Let's dance.? She oppened a channel. "<Do you dance?>"

"<Nani?>"

"<Oh, never mind!>" Isa started firing.

Akira dodged frantically, that VM had twice the front-firing firepower his own Windwalker had. He fired a burst, too, and saw some of it hitting the other VM -tagged by the computer as 'Gatillo'- and punching through a shield. "Good for the Disruptor ammo ". Then he saw a second reactive shield burning all the lead that had come in. Akira started swearing silently, then took a look at his analizer. Same code size as his own VM... twin arm guns, twin arm blades, twin arm beamshields, twin arm reactive shields, all with the same power rating as his only gun... that girl had done WHAT? Akira keep swearing -loudly.

He climbed again, not willing to waste any more ammo, but the Gatillo followed him. He tried a split S to take usage of his greater height and was able of placing himself between Gatillo and the Sun, but couldn't get outside the other VM's firing arc. Anyway, he dove from the sun towards the Gatillo.

Isa keep firing, climbing, but the Sun was a much greater hassle for her, with her amplifier helmet, than Akira had expected. All her shots were effectively wild, but not having ammo troubles she fired anyway.

Akira was surprised by his rival's lack of accuracy, but he didn't know the cause. He switched fire control to his precious wing missiles. Only four of them, so better make each shoot count. Coming head-on, fast, he got a lock, then waited until both VMs were at hardly 50m of each other.

"<Bye-bye!>". He fired.

Isa was unable to dodge the point-blank missile. The external shield sparkled and died. The internal shield took as much damage as it was able to soak before dying, too. She tried to parry with the right arm beamshield and missed. The armor hold as well as she could hope, but a large crater appeared on his torso plastron. No internal damage, but the blast knocked his VM around like a rag doll.

Akira hauled his nose around and closed for the kill. He lined the falling Gatillo on his sights and fired a long burst. To his surprise, the pilot was able to parry the entire burst with her left beamshield, then pointed both arms towards him and fired. The twin lasers scorched Windwalker's armor, both hitting the torso section. A cloud of virtual sparks surrounded Akira while his VM's voice started announcing the damage. The Windwalker went into a spin, but Akira rolled and managed to regain control of his plane just in time to avoid a collision with the ground, then had to switch very quickly to Walker mode in order to set down on that terrain. When he looked again, the Gatillo was not visible.



Tamiyka was standing on top of a frozen hill, Kindjal's metallic ponytail flagging in the wind. "<I know you are there. Come out were I can see you.>"

On the top of another, nearby hill, Alexei uncloaked his Black Ghost.

"<So, you coded for Magnetic sensors. It seems I shall have to do something about that>"

"<Do not worry adjusting your cloak, I will always find some way of counter you.>"

"<Try countering /this/!>. 'Sundown's' screens filled with images of Alex's NinjaMek as the Black Ghost leapt towards her. She let loose with her optic beam, but chose the wrong target. Alex appeared beside her, plasma ninjato held high. Tamiyka drew her own huge beamsword and counter-charged.

Both VMs flashed past, energy swords leaving a trail of fire in their wake, unleashing a mighty electric lightning bolt when they met. With the thunder of that bolt still echoing, both VMs remained frozen for a moment, swords still held forward, as the energies unleashed dissipated.

Quite a few seconds later, both VMs turned to face each other. There was a small scorch on both VMs' leg armors, but nothing else.

"<Impressive. Most impressive. You've augmented your VM's energy since we last met>", radioed Alex.

"<You'll find I?m full of surprises!>", answered Tamiyka, readying her sword again.

"<Will you both stop saying old clichés and making silly poses and fight for real once and for all?!?>, "Mustard" couldn't help but break in on the radio. The answer was a double scream on his comunicator.

"<SHADDAP!! WE'RE BUSY!!>"
"<SHADDAP!! WE'RE BUSY!!>"

"These two are just plain silly. They don't take this seriously." Mike "Mustard" rolled his eyes up, then turned his "Big Mean Boogie Machine", moose-headed, one-legged VM towards Arnold's photorealistically-rendered Arnold Schartzenegger clone, "King Conan" VM.

"<Were were we?>", he radioed, readying its axes while "Nanoc" raised his sword.



Chiisai looked at his sensors again. He had managed to get onto Kyozo's tail, then that blasted Black Lady had appeared again and forced him to disengage. He was free, for now, and was looking for a new target. It seemed that most of his friends were online and he couldn't choose which one to engage right now. A short, controlled energy burst coming out of nowhere bounced off Cora's reactive shield, showing him that there was still another person he knew in the fray.

"<So, 'Loquacious', you are playing today...>" Naturally, he got no answer.

What he did get was a blink on his screen. A newcomer. Tagged as a tank. A BIG one.

"Rotten..."

Too good to pass up, but too far away to get there quickly. The Black Lady was still chasing after him, and the one thing Chiisai was NOT going to do was to fly in a straight line for any extended period of time with so many hostiles nearby. He looked at his screen, taking note of who where close enough. He oppened a channel.

"Auzzie" threw the Maginot to his left one more time, dodging the powerful Illumina's beam rifle again, only to get right into the swords of the Edge. He was starting to feel unease. He had lost his reactive shield after a hit from a really nasty missile fired from the Edge, and now he was being forced to dodge frantically. Why had these two girls, Natsumi and Lei-Ming, teamed up against him instead of simply blasting away at everything in sight as everybody else was doing? He returned fire, with little real effect, but at least he bought some time to take cover from Natsumi's next burst.

"<Coo-ee!>" (typical Australian shout), came Chiisai's voice on the radio.

"<Very funy, Chii. Are you only trying to distract me or are you actually trying to sound like an Australian?>"

"<I've got something that may interest you. To the point, would you like 'Rotten' Ronnie to roll over you, or would you like him on a silver platter instead?>" asked Chiisai.

"<Don't tell me he...>" 'Auzzie' had to parry a sword thrust at this point. He kicked the Edge's right lower leg, making it fall, then had to run again to avoid yet another burst from the Illumina.

"<...he's a quarter of a click from you at your 10 o clock, right after that hill. I'll send you the data. Chiisai out.>"

'Auzzie' glanced at his screen. Yes, there was something big lumbering around over there. He opened the external speakers.

"Natsumi, Lei-Ming, check at your screens! Guess who's behind that hill!" Natsumi fired at him again, but Lei-Ming stood still for a second.

"<Natsumi, he right. We got the DeathPanzer right over us!>"

"<I see, Lei-Ming.>" Natsumi switched radio to 'Auzzie'. "<Are you, maybe, suggesting a temporary cease fire?>"

"<Yes. The only thing more fun than beating up a friend is beating up a foe with your friends, right?>"

Lei-Ming grinned. "<OK, then let's spread out for him.>"

The three VMs scattered around the DeathPanzer's approach route. Then they heard a loud explosion, and a four-legged VM came down the hill, rolling and bouncing all the way. Natsumi recognized it as Keiko's "Bruce the Boss", the VM of one of the smaller kids playing on the arcade. Then 'Rotten's' VM appeared lumbering over the hill, its main gun smoking. Natsumi's anger flared.

"<So, 'Rotten', you bullying children now? Get him!!>"

The three VMs charged forward while the D-Panzer turned around his turret towards them. The Illumina's gun was at least as powerful as the Panzer's, but his fire was harmlessly deflected by the tank's force field. So was the Maginot's main gun's burst. Lei-Ming closed in her Edge to use her twin swords, having to dodge a burst from the tank's defensive systems, but both blades bounced against the damned shield. Richards turned his turret, then fired at her at point blank. The round ripped the Edge's entire right arm off at the shoulder and Lei-Ming's VM fell on its back to the ground. Keiko, having managed to get his damaged VM on its feet again, fired another round from his turret gun. The 100mm disruptor round punched through the shield with ease, but the armor piercing bullet simply bounced off over the tank's front armor, without even damaging it. Richards fired his frontal hammerbeam, the plasma wave engulfing Keiko's mecha and knocking down the lightweight Maginot, who was standing some 50 m away, by the sheer force of the explosion.

"<That damned tank of 'Rotten's' is nigh-invulnerable to anything whe have! Retreat!>" shouted Natsumi on the radio. Richards evidently heard her calling him by his hated nickname, since his tank, ignoring the fallen Edge, rolled towards her. He switched ammo to a 'Willie Peter' round.

"<The handle is Megabuck$. I'll teach you to remember that! I'll tell you to adress me with the proper respect!>"

"<Soo.... none, right?>", answered Natsumi, defiantly. Ronnie fired.

Natsumi made his VM hit the ground. The incendiary round holed the air where she was standing a second ago, then exploded vaporizing a huge chunk of ice behind her in a cloud of white phosphorus which would have totaled her VM for sure had it hit her. Natsumi forced the Illumina on its knees again only to face Robert's hammerbeam pointed at her face at pointblank.

"<I'll show you how I deal with those who forget who are their betters...>"

Then the Terrible Oni Garguan's kick swept Robert's tank from his treads.

Richards' head bounced against the VM cockpit as the simulator shook all the way to the sides to imitate the fall. His VM rolled downhill, stopping (turret-up, (un)fortunately) in a rather sudden way upon reaching the ice plain below.

"<Who the hell is that?!>" radioed an atonished Auzzie to the others.

"<I'll show YOU how I deal with those who abuse children and pretty girls!>" boomed the digitally altered voice of the Garguan's pilot in a deep, loud bass tone. "<I'll let you take the lesson from my DOUBLE TURBO TORNADO KICK!!>"

The 30m, monsterous VM jumped and pressed both leggs together, then spun rapidly as it descended, both legs impacting one after another on the DeathPanzer with a mighty clash. The tank's shield didn't go down; it actually shattered, purple-colored shards of the forcefield scattering around like broken glass. Richards was shocked again by the impact, then he managed to fire both the CIDS and the main gun at the Garguan. The monster simply took the hits, not even bothering to dodge, as it raised both arms forward.

"<ROCKET PUNCH!!>"

Both claws rocketed forward, impacting on the tank's side. The first one punched through his beamshield, knocking its projector out of the action. The second one hit his right side treads dead on, ripping away half the motive system. and once again, "Rotten" got shook around the cockpit one more time. That was no longer being funny. Now his tank had lost both of the energy shields that made him almost invulnerable!

"<He'ss all yours, boys.>" The Garguan posed dramatically for a moment, then turned and left on blazing plumes of rocket fire.

"Auzzie" was totally amazed at the scene, of course, but he decided against complaining. He linked his missiles pods and fired all 10 of his remaining SLAMMs. Natsumi and Lei-Ming also launched their own missile packs.

The DeathPanzer's armor held appreciably well against the first half of the salvo. Then large chunks of metal started to fly around as the Maginot's and Edge's missiles blew the outher layers of armor. Natsumi's smaller rockets struck the weakened armor, now debilitated enough for them to have effect. When the rockets finished blossoming over the tank's flank, the armor was no more. Then Keiko fired his 100mm gun again. The tank's ammo exploded.

By the time R. Richards IV got screaming out of his VM pod, everybody around had already scattered away.

'Auzzie' cheered, then turned to Natsumi and exchanged high and low fives (the hands being the most vissible adittion to the Magi2) with her VM. Then he turned to Lei-Ming and started a high five with her, too, but instead of clapping down, the Edge lowered the arm's sword and sliced the Maginot in half at the waist with a giggle on the radio.

'Auzzie's' cockpit went blank but for the "Game Over" message. He started swearing while his pod's door hissed open. Then he saw Lei-Ming's pod opening, too, and saw her getting out of the pod muttering something about "traitors and bad friends". Both kids stared at each other. Then they started laughing.



"Old acquaitances"

Akira had lost track of the Gatillo. He didn't know the pilot personally,but she was good and they had started too good a fight to stop it. He took the air again, his powerful sensor suite sweeping the arena until he found his target. Isa was some 10 Km away, on the ground, fighting somebody who had a very fast but ground-bound mecha he didn't know. He made sure it was nobody on his tail and rocketed towards her.

Isa was having fun chasing Beinre Shinzato's Bomberjack. His cousin's VM was REAL fast on the ground but didn't even have jumpjets. Her Gatillo was able to fly, but she was limiting herself to jumpjetting in the name of having more fun. Beinre dashed forward one more time, ignoring the Gatillo's outstreched arm and trying instead to plant a satchel charge on Isa's VM's butt.

"<Ah! Beinre no bata!>" Isa dodged and sliced away with her linked lightsabers. The nimble Bomberjack avoided them, then tried again to place a satchel.

Then a double burst of 3.7cm guns ripped the Bomberjack from above.

Isa jumped to the side, looking upwards. Coming down from the sun, there was a propeller plane diving towards her. She kicked the thrusters full open, avoiding a second burst by two inches. She had never fought that fragile-looking plane, but she had seen it in action against Chiisai's Cora, and it was capable of taking on the much-powerful VM. She turned to fight, but the plane had rolled and was climbing out of its dive below her, towards her back. She rolled the Gatillo, but now the plane was above her.

"_/&U%_&%_!" (Japanese for &/&$*/&U%) <Chiisai! Jaired! I think this is an old friend of yours!>"

Right now Chiisai was busy trying again to outmaneuver Jaired, who finaly had managed to get free of the ice, but Isa's voice got his inmediate, undivided atention. He reflexively stopped Cora dead in the air, almost causing Jaired to collide with her (and definitely causing him to crash into the ice -again), as he looked at the target data Isa was sending him.

"<Jaired, do you remember that plane the day you got buried on ice the first time?>"

"<Are you trying to be funny, or trying to end our friendship?>" radioed Jaired from under the ice.

"<Neither. He's here again. He's fighting Isa! Last time he got out. Let's go, we have some business to finish.>"

"<Go after him, I'm... 'busy' right now>" radioed Jaired sarcastically.

Chiisai opened Cora's thrusters full open and dashed towards "Maverick's" plane.

At the same time, Akira was doing the same.



Akira got to the battle first. He saw the Gatillo fighting a new VM, one looking like an old WWII German dive bomber but sporting the Rising Sun instead of the damned Swastika. He didn't know it nor its pilot, but he was not letting anyone interfere on his own party. He shot a burst from his chaingun. The plane dodged it with ease, but at least was forced to drop the pressure on Isa. Akira radioed: "<So, you'd rather dance with him than with me?>"

"<Nani?>" Then Isa remembered her own joke.

"<Well, you still owe me a... >" 'Maverick's' fire interrupted him as both VMs had to dodge his next burst. He rolled to the side and managed to get tail of the plane, tagged as Helldiver by the computer. He flew after him, switching targetting systems to his missiles. He stayed on its tail, armed the missile... almost locked-on... bingo! "<Bye-bye!>" Akira said as he fired.

Isamu smiled. He stopped allowing Akira to tail him, flew a barrel roll around the missile, easily avoiding it and getting into Akira's tail in the same move. The missile keep going, and it forced Isa, who was trying to get a flank attack, to dodge around, getting into Isamu's sights. He fired another burst.

Isa managed to parry each gun with a diferent beamshield. Still, both 37mm rounds tore into the shields, tore into the armor, tore into the internal structure of her VM. She lost both her VM's arms, with all her weaponry. The kinetic ammo's force drove the Gatillo backwards, plummeting to the ground, making a big crater. Its powerplant exploded on impact, destroying her VM. Sitting in her blank, still pod, Isa started muttering words whose meaning a 13-year-old schoolgirl should not know.



Chiisai arrived just in time to see the Gatillo's end. Naturally, he got angry. VERY angry. NOBODY was to shoot down his friends but him! He shouted a war cry on the tactical band, charging forward.

"Maverick" recognized that voice. He recognized that huge force beam, too, as he climbed frantically to avoid it. He had met that pilot before, and he was not a complete incompetent like most others. Not to mention that oversized weapon of his. A definite threat that should be eliminated first. He broke his tail on Akira and turned towards Cora. The female-looking VM was flying directly towards him, probably trusting in its shields. Stupid. Isamu fired.

Of course, Chiisai did know of the true strength of the 37mm guns. He had tasted them before. He dodged Cora towards the ground, having managed to force Isamu to waste yet another of his limited ammo supply of 12 -now he had only 7 burst left. He fired from below, but the Helldiver avoided the beam with ease. He saw the other plane, tagged as Windwalker, moving itself towards "Maverick's" tail.

"<Get out of there. He's mine>", radioed Chiisai.

"<No way. That VM he just shot down and me were teaming up against him. He's MINE>", answered Akira.

"<I was gonna shoot him down for exactly the same reason,>" answered Chiisai. "<How about teaming up with me?>"

Akira had no time to answer inmediatelly as the Helldiver reverted his tailing with a vertical scissors and fired on him from above. One round tore into his pod, ripping the armor, destroying his sensors and causing internal damage on the main hull. He took advantage of Windwalker's hybrid configuration to turn around and avoid a possible second burst, but his plane was badly damaged and wasn't able of shaking the tail. "<OK. Let's nail him,>" he finally managed to answer.

Chiisai was already placing himself on tail of the Helldiver. As expected, "Maverick" broke pursuit and started trying to shake him. "<OK, you're free, nail him!>"

Chiisai gambled. He let "Maverick" break his tail and place himself behind Cora. He even steadied for a moment, to lure him into pursue instead of watching his tail.

Isamu was no fool to swallow the bait, he know that pilot wasn't, either, but still he chose to follow. He would destroy him, then take the other.

Akira knew he had no chance of getting on 'Maverick's' tail with his reduced speed. He chose attacking from the flank instead. Chiisai ought have figured his intent, since he led the Helldiver towards him instead of the other way. Akira got lock, fired both his remaining missiles.

Isamu was still doing evasives for the plane he supposed was on his tail, when he saw the missiles' contrail streaking towards him at 11 o'clock. He cursed his own mistake and rolled desperately to the side. He managed to dodge the first missile and casually got Akira in his sights. Then the old warrior instincts betrayed him. He automatically fired instead of keeping on dodging. He almost failed to dodge the second missile. The force of the near miss explosion's struck his left gunpod, jaming the cannon and shaking the plane's structure. The Helldiver was catapulted by the huge explosion, but it was still flying and with no real damage other than the jammed gun and the paint job.

Akira had no such luck. Both shots hit him, one on each wing. Both wings destroyed, what remained of Windwalker plummeted towards the ground. He 'ejected'.

Chiisai saw the loss of his provisional team-mate. He was again getting angry. Then he saw a newcomer. Jaired finally got -again- outta the ice and entered the fray, firing his pulse lasers. Isamu dodged him, then rolled to his tail. He had one gun with five rounds of ammo left, enough for up to five more kills, and he was NOT going to retreat, nor show weaknesses to anyone. "<Here comes the cavalry!>, radioed Jaired.

"<Then all yours, cavalry. It?s chickening time, I?m outta there!!>", shouted Chiisai. He oppened Cora?s thrusthers full open, started a low yoyo to gain even more speed, and flew away to the North.

"<Kojiro! Come back, you coward!>", shouted Jaired, but Chissai was already far away. then Isamu achieved a tail on the Archon, and Jaired became too busy dodging to keep shouting. Isamu fired. The Archon?s pinpoint shield parried as best as it was able, but still the round punched through the armor and severed the weapon mount, destroying the big gun and damaging the torso?s insides. Jaired flew East at full throttle, arching to the left on a very definite curve.

"Probably due to thruster damage?, thought Isamu. A look at his analizer; yes, the left side thrusters were not functioning. What a deception. The pilot of that female-looking VM, that one Kojiro or Chiisai or whatever, was not as good as he first at first. He forgot about him, concentrating on Jaired instead. The Archon was still much faster than the Diver, but he flew Nort-East, drifting to the left on a much less arched way, to an interception point. Soon afterwards, he got the Archon in his sights. Before he could fire, the Archon reverted his gravitics, suddenly decreasing speed. Isamu grinned.

"Not this time!" That maneuver was too old. He reverted his own propeller and oppened the air brakes, managing to keep Jaired on his sights. "Moratta!"

Then Chiisai fired from under the ground, where he was hiding below a snowfall to avoid the Helldiver's sensors, shooting at the almost standing plane as if on a shooting range, unhindered on its aim thanks to the Magnetic Resonance sensors.

Isamu failed to see the ambush, there weren't any traces of a mecha entering the snow, but he saw the muzzle flash on his eye's corner. Only his exceptional reflexes allowed him to avoid a direct hit. Still, Cora's oversized laser beam ripped the Helldiver, blowing his surviving gunpod like the armor did not exist. The now unarmed Helldiver was badly shaken by the blast. Isamu damned loudly as he managed to regain control and flew away.

Chiisai flew from under the snow. The armor was somewhat damaged because he had to shut down the shield to reduce his sensor signature, and the snowfall he himself provocated by firing on the mountain to bury Cora on the snow without leaving vissible footprints had shook him a bit, too (the computer registrered that had this been real, he would probably have several ribs brocken), but he was smiling broadly as he radioed Jaired. "<So, the old 'Brave Sir Robin flew away' trick still works!>", he laughed.

"<Chickening away, making use of his feet!>", sung Jaired. "<I'm going after him>", he radioed, turning his port engines on again. "<He's too fast for you but I can easily catch him!>"

"<Let him go. He's unarmed and almost destroyed. He's not a threat.> "

Jaired took to the ground beside him and both VMs did a high five. Then the helldiver turned and dove kamikaze-like towards them.

"Well, it seems I made a slight threat assessment miscalculation", said Chiisai thoughtfully, looking at the smoking crater on the ice that moments before was his friend's VM. He opened the external sound channel. "Jaired, gomen nasai! Are you angry?" His friend's answer over the headphones was not very calm.

The battle raged on.

A few Km north and a few minutes later, after a particularly though battle that costed him his shields and sensors, Chiisai landed and watched his remaining screens again. What he saw on them, he didn't like; the silhouette of a cloaked, spider-like VM just behind him.

"Please, not again..." he said mournfully, remembering the Jungle.

The D6 platform entangled Cora and chewed her to pieces.



After making sure the satellite link had not been traced, Abdel Hadi cut the conexion and turned off his pod. He turned towards his half-brother Walid. The later was watching him by the open pod's door with an amused look on his face. "So, brother, you left before time? Not your usual style", Walid said.

"I didn't know that VM had such a hot powerplant. My machine was badly damaged by the explosion, and it would not be wise to keep fighting on such a circunstances. I'd rather never have my VM destroyed, even if it is only a game. After all, aren't you the one who always say, 'It is better to run and fight again than to fight and never again be able to run'?"

"I do. What truly surprised me is that /you/ did that. As I said, not your style."

Abdel laughed. His brother helped him step out of the pod. "I know, brother. I would rather to fight and never again HAVE to run, tough."

Both kids walked out of the pod's building and onto the landscaped patio. Over the well-trimmed frutal trees, the desert's sun was aproaching its zenith. It was almost lunch time.

"What a noble statement," joked Walid with mock reverence. "Now, I'd rather run more than you in order of not having to fight with you for the best pastries." He dashed through the patio towards the dinning room, followed a second later by his brother. Their bodyguards followed a moment later.



"Aftermath"

As Chiisai stepped out of his pod, he saw the members of the Knights of the Wind team (the all-female VM team he just fought on the game) but for Rio, the team?s captain, walking towards him. He braced himself for a verbal fight. "Good fight!", greeted Maki. Chiisai relaxed. "You really surprised us with that move of jumping among us. We were expecting you to start one of your running fights," continued Maki with professional tone.

"Thanks," he answered.

"But take care, you've managed to REALLY upset Rio. She's one to hold grudges against men who beat her, you know."

On this momment the last two pods, Rio's and Kyozo's, opened. Rio was swearing loudly, somewhat very unusual for her, while "the King" had an apologetic expresion on his face.

"So I see," said Chiisai. "See you later." He started fleeing towards where his friends were. He was stopped by Maki's hand on his shoulder.

"Next time we will crush you to pieces. We owe you a nasty public defeat, and we WILL give it to you!", she whispered on his ear. Maki's tone was surprisingly cold, her words slow, her eyes as hard as agates.

Chiisai gasped.

A second later, Maki returned to her normal self, and he rocketed to safety faster than even the mighty Cora could.



He meet his friends at the burger shop one floor below the arcade. There was Jenny, who had not played today, talking with Jaired, and Isa talking to (not "with") the silent Akira, who was only staring atonished at her blindsman's cane. To his surprise, 'Auzzie' was animatedly talking with the usually shy and little talkative Lei-Ming around a pair of huge sodas. On the next table were 'Mustard', Alex, Arnold and Tamiyka, animatedly exchanging heated insults in four languages. He headed towards the table with Jaired and the others.

"Congrats, Chiisai", Isa greeted him, before he could even say hello. "I think you managed to ice lots of them today."

'One of them, several times," chided Jenny. Jaired pulled a sour face but Isa laughed. "Yes, that's true, too," she said. "Still, I think something is bugging Chiisai again today, too."

"Very funny. What an original thought. Not to mention the great in-joke."

"Well, it's the truth, isn't it?" Chiisai nodded mournfully, then Jenny continued, "I think you know Akira by now."

"Yes, I think so", answered Akira, offering his hand to Chiisai.

Chiisai's handsake was frank, but Akira saw there was something strange in his eyes as he saw Akira sitting beside Isa. He started to get up, planning on leaving his place to Chiisai, but the latter put a hand on his shoulder and seated him again, using the movement of seating himself to conceal his action.

"You're a good pilot. Good teamwork," Chiisai complimented him.

Akira smiled. "Thank you. You are darn good, yourself. And your partner is wonderful, you tricked that "Maverick" real good." Jaired smiled. "How did you Jaired know what Chiisai was planning?" Before Jenny could stop him finishing the question or Isami could shouth "NO!", Chiisai and Jaired got up and, laughing, sung the entire "Brave Sir Robin" song from the old "Monty Pyton's Holly Grial" movie, much to Isa's and Jenny's (who were holding her heads betwen her hands on desperation) chagrim.

"You happy?", asked Isa to Akira.

"Ehh... I think I made a stupid question", said Akira.

Finally, both kids finished their song. "I saw the rest of your combat on the holo," continued Akira. "Do you know why these five girls teamed against you?"

"I dunno," lied Chiisai. "Maybe my natural attractiveness made all them wanting to beat me as an excuse for a later date," he joked. Isa and Jenny snorted.

"Jaired," said jenny, "I think the one who got hit on the head was him instead of his VM."

"They're both one and the same thing," Isa pointed out. "They're nothing without each other."

Chiisai was right on the verge of letting slip whom he was nothing without, but he managed to recover his composture. Of course, Akira saw him. He knew the meaning of that expression. He saw the same one on the face of his ex-girlfriend shortly after they broke. He looked again at Isa. She was still very young, but on a year or two she would be a real beauty. Still, he was not thinking about girls right now. And even if he were willing to wait to be interested, still he was forced to admit that he was somewhat intimidated by her blindness, too, so that kid had nothing to be afraid of, he decided. But he'd better watch his own steps, or he would have a real good VM pilot with a very nasty VM gunning after him each time he entered the arena... mmm... that could be interesting.

"Heard you about "Sundown' and Mike?", asked Jenny.

"No, what happened?", asked Jaired. She was gonna tell anyway, so he might as well keep her happy.

"'Mustard' interrumpted her and Alex while they were fighting, and she's so angry at him that they just broke up!"

"AGAIN???", asked everybody.

"Yes, so it seems. Chiisai, stop looking at your watch!!"

From the nearby table came several tender words in Russian, followed by the fleeing Alexey and Arnold.

"I only wanted to see exactly how long they lasted this time," apologized Chiisai. This time, Isa actualy laughed at his joke, and that was all Chiisai needed. "C'mon, let's order something, my treat!"

"What are you ordering for us?" asked Jaired.

"An ice-..." before he could even say "cream", Jaired had already leapt the table, scattering the trays and sodas, and Jenny and Akira, wide-eyed, were trying to restrain him while he was actively trying to strangle his friend.



Isamu walked out of the third-class arcade. The winter air was cold, but his mood was even chillier. He aproached his bike and started unchaining it.

A car stopped by his side. A luxurious black one. Isamu did not even need to turn his head to know who was inside it.

The tinted glass of the rear left window opened. Not to Isamu?s surprise, Haruko's face was staring at him from behind the window.

"Do you care to explain me this little game of yours, please?"

Isamu did not answer.

"You know, this silly, selfish adventure of yours could cost us money next time you fight."

Isamu finished unchaining his motorbike without saying nothing.

"I thought you were the best. Or at least that's what you say each time you have the chance. Perhaps you..." the rest of Haruko's speech was lost on the noise when Isamu started his bike's engine and roared it high.

"You are going to do one thing," he said. "You'll find out the names of these three kids. The one of the walking plane, the one of the transforming, flying tank and the one of the female VM with the big gun. You'll find out who they are and when they usually are playing. When you find all of this informatioon, you'll tell me everything I need to know."

"What do you think I am, your..." Isamu silenced her again with his engine, then he put his helmet on.

"Better you do it fast." He clapped his helmet's visor close, revv'ed up his engine again and streaked away.

"You stupid, arrogant fool..."she thougth. "Yes, I'll find who these kids are. You can be sure I'll find who just made me lose so much money on this fight you thought you were fighting on your own. Yes, damned sure..."

Haruko closed the window, then signalled her chauffer to go on.

TO BE CONTINUED...

Story writen by LITTLE LOCUS