A/N: Essentially, this story was born from that last scene of the series (ie. why is Ai/eye back in Yuusaku's duel disk and why do the creators leave us with that cruel cliffhanger?). A mix of epilogue and Ai's return throwing a wrench into things, as well as taking the chance to explore some character relationships and fanon theories/fill-in-the-gaps... In other words, a bit of a free for all though there is a plot and it is written down (and not on the back of patient notes, for once!).
Meant to start posting last week, but I was still on nights when I finished Ch 11 so I've wound up with 21 chapters backlogged instead... and just barely starting the second arc. Arc 1 is essentially epilogue, but it sets the scene (hopefully).
Epic Masterclass Challenge, 1 – canon goodness (ie. Fic does not contradict canon)
Staying in a Box Challenge, 11 – mixed POVs (word count range: chapters 1000-2499 words)
Testing Your Patience Challenge – 11 chapters
Diversity Writing Challenge, L20 - complete 100,000 from a multichap or series in two consecutive months that include the whole of/part of campnano or a nanowrimo (you can use a tail-end of nano if you're planning something else for nano)
Part 1 – The Spoils of Battle
Chapter 1 – Rebuilding
They all know when the final battles end, because the unconscious wake up and Link VRAINS screeches to a grinding halt. Akira wakes up to Aoi and their household robot on either side of him. Emma wakes up to an empty house but an estranged brother at the door. Go wakes up to a pound of kids on his chest and a too small bed keeping him wedged in. The three knights of Hanoi wake up in a boat adrift with Pandora looking in on them.
And Hayami, who'd forgotten something, returns expecting to have to argue her way through security and finds them non-functional. She might have seen a shadow leaving as well. She might not have; she's not quite sure. Still, she follows her instincts, her curiosity, her feet – she walks past the slumped Soltis only to find more and more… and finally, a mass-produced line of identical figures, all toppled like dominoes.
Only the one in the middle looks purposely arranged, hands clasped across the chest and cloak drawn up to cover his face as though he lay there dead. But he was also a Soltis, with the mark on his neck, and given Soltis had overrun both SOL technologies and Link VRAINS, what other human would be there in the middle of the night to do such a thing?
For a fleeting moment, she wonders if it's Playmaker. But Playmaker hasn't been since the incident with Bohman and what would make him show up, in guise, to SOL technologies?
She can't prove anyone was here anyway, with the place in shambles in more ways than one. Instead she starts phoning people, heedless of the time, and most aren't enthused to get things sorted in the middle of the night.
Eventually though, she collects a small assortment of people outside the opened doors of SOL Technologies. There are Akira, immaculate as ever in his blue suit but somehow more distant as well, and Aoi in a hastily thrown on top and skirt on his arm. There's several women rubbing sleep out of their eyes, all in crinkled suits or casual dress, or males who've forgone such care and turned up in their pyjamas. Most her usual team is there. Some from the maintenance department. Some from the manufacturing line. No seniors aside from Akira, though. That's purposeful, though she'll deny it if anyone outside her usual team asks. She did ask the bounty hunters, though. There's no Go, though, nor Blood Sheppard. There is Ghost Girl though, dressed in a purple one piece that hangs far more loosely
And, of course, there's no-one to step on Akira's toes. There's no-one she trusts more to take the reins.
And he does, just like she expects him to. "What happened here, Hayami?" is the first question out of his mouth, unlike the others who are either silent and watching or grumbling at the interruption of their sleep.
"I left something here and didn't realise until after I got home and unpacked my bags." She isn't going to tell him what she left; that's too awkward but even silence on the matter can't stop the flush creeping into her cheeks. "I was too wound up to leave it until morning so came to see if the security bots would let me in – or at least fetch it for me. Except they were all non-functional when I found them."
The whispers break out again. Akira waves a hand and they silence, watching the movement. "Go on," he says.
She does. "I went inside. I was curious, and the bots inside were all the same. And the manufacturing line was filled with identical looking bots and of course not one of them worked either. What was creepy though was one of them was arranged with hands over their chest and cloak over his eyes, almost as if he were dead. And there was someone – I think. I'm not really sure. They were out of sight before I could get a good look at them."
Akira mumbles something that only Aoi seems to pick up, and she gives a small gasp at it. The rest of them are only privy to his other words. "No point checking the security cameras, I suppose." He shakes his head. "Is this all you contacted, or did more not show up?"
"I contacted everyone I could get a hold of. Queen, of course, is in hospital still so I couldn't get through." That's a lie. "And I didn't think it was necessary to contact our shareholders in the middle of the night."
"But you drag us out of bed," someone mumbles, but another is already turning over a Soltis curiously.
Akira glances at the assembled mix of personell. "We'll make do," he says. "We'll keep Link VRAINs closed for now and sort out security and the Soltis first. And let's see if we can't get a little more help as well."
"Want me to go?" Aoi asks. She seems to understand better than the rest of them where that extra help may come from. Though Ghost Girl is nodding appreciatively as well, and her companion wears his usual stoic expression (and does that mean he isn't fazed or he can just hide it that well?)
"It's the middle of the night and you're sixteen." Akira frowns.
Ghost Girl laughs. "Oh, no-one needs to go. There are other ways to contact people. Just leave it to me."
Akira nods and disentangles himself from his sister. She looks a little put out so Hayami interjects: "We need an awesome duellist here anyway. Kitigama's duel robots are no match for you!"
Aoi laughs. Akira nods. "Not to mention our own duel traps… and if Ai added any of his own." He frowns.
So did Hayami, who also frowns. Not many people here would know who Ai was. But Akira doesn't expand. Instead, he starts delegating. A small group of people (namely, Aoi, Ghost Girl, her companion and someone from the maintenance team when Hayami pointed out none of the first three were employees of Sol Technologies) would physically comb the building, withdrawing the Soltis datachips as well as dismantling any traps they might stumble across. Meanwhile, the majority of security and maintenance personnel would comb through the digital infrastructure, prioritising clearance and maintenance based on necessity. Link VRAINS would remain cut off until it was cleaned and stabilised, but they could wait until tomorrow to announce that. Meanwhile, the last team would comb through the employee records and recent press, and organise an emergency press release for tomorrow.
And now that there is a plan, the group of people look more chirper, though a few request teas, coffees or snacks for an almost all-nighter.
"We'll free the kitchens first, then," Ghost Girl grins, "and if there's nothing there, I'll grab some stuff with the bike. That work?"
It works fine, apparently, even if it didn't fit the bounty hunter image she normally portrays (and even though most employees probably didn't know she was Ghost Girl either, or Aoi was Blue Angel and Blue Maiden).
They split up. Some had thought to bring laptops so they access the network from there. The others start
Akira and the infiltration group hang back. So does Hayami, though she does it apprehensively. Does he want her to leave? Are they going to talk about secrets she can't or shouldn't understand? Though she's been by his side the entire time: through the original VRAINs incident where she learnt Aoi's identity, through the hunt for Playmaker (and if she ever meets him again, she'll apologise for her overzealousness, she thinks, given how he saved Akira twice over) and the incident with Mirror VRAINS where she'd been in charge of security when Akira had been in Link VRAINs. And then, during the Sol Technologies hijacking incident, Akira had trusted her with his and Aoi's lives on that aeroplane as well.
But Akira didn't send her away. Nor did the others, though Ghost Girl's companion did give her a calculating look. Instead, they knelt over a piece of paper, drawing a hasty map of the building and asking Hayami to point out the greatest concentration of Soltis. She does so, and puts a star on the place she'd found that one strange one.
"Think it's the original?" Ghost Girl asks.
"Only Playmaker would know, I guess," Aoi replies. "It had to have been him, or maybe Revolver but I doubt Revolver would have been that kind to Ai."
"Revolver," Hayami repeats. Perhaps she isn't privy to as much as she'd thought. "He's still at large? Oh, and the knight called Baira escaped from the maximum security prison as well…"
Surprisingly, Ghost Girl's companion laughs. "Their security is a joke. Most of us standing here could break out without breaking a sweat."
"Let's hope we never need to try," Akira says quietly. "But yes, the four Knights of Hanoi are still at large, as is Revolver. For now, though, consider them a private military company. They are monitoring the network for crimes as their atonement."
"You're too soft, Zaizen-sama." But Hayami smiles because that's one of the things she respects about him and, frankly, Queen can use a little more niceness to her. And this is Akira's chance to build Sol Technologies into a kinder company… or at least lay the foundation before morning and reality checks come.
The others head into the building. Akira moves to head inside. "Come on." He gestures at her. "We can contact the others once some of our infrastructure is clear to access."
"Right." She grins at him, then quickly covers up a yawn. She might have set this party up (or Playmaker or Revolver or whoever caused the Soltis to shut down) but it's still going to be a long night.