theAuthor2020: The plot thickens. Loving this so far, can't wait to see what's next. (Hinobi looking really sus now)

7sky: Zero? Is that you?

Or-lan-do626: When does get her time with Five? She the only gal that has not got her turn to hangout. After all he did kind ask her to

ArlenOfTheMist: This is a really fun fic, though I do have some small critiques. You seem to default to a slightly clunky writing style when you're setting the scene after a scene change, but maybe I'm being a little nitpicky. Is Hornographics supposed to sound like a porn studio, or am I just dumb? Inspector 0 has already caught my interest, and you only just introduced them! -Arlen

(AN: No, Hornographics is not supposed to be a porn studio xD It's about speakers.)

OMAC001: Okay, can't wait to learn more about Inspector 0!


BZZZZZZTTT—

"They're over here!"

Damp and depressing. That's how she'd describe her current environment. An underground tunnel beneath city streets and unaware passers-by. Her boots clacked over the metal grate floors, while on the walls and underneath the floors, thick electrical cables lined up alongside wires and various pipes, easily stretching for miles. Her white nondescript mask, which had a digital overlay underneath, showed her the best path.

Her mission was a simple in-and-out; grab some files, put them in a cartridge and escape. She knew the place would be crawling with guards, all of them equipped with weapons designed to take her down. It was a dangerous job but it was hers and thus, was obligated to commit.

The infiltration went smoothly at first. She was undetected and easily downloaded the files. But then, some human had to just walk into her.

Everything went to hell after that.

"H-hey, stop!" A male guard yelled, chasing after her at top speed. He was in his late-20s, stood over twice her height and had spiky dark-orange hair with stubble on his chin. Other than that, he wore the same standard uniform — dark blue overalls with light blue lines and a small jacket.

Since she didn't listen, he then activated an earpiece with his right hand. "Requesting backup! They're at the northwest tunnels of sector 7!"

"Roger that. We're on our way." A feminine voice replied, signing off.

The maze-like tunnels and countless turns did nothing to impede his chase and she had the advantage here. While she could technically run forever, she wouldn't be able to outrun him. She was short and the man had very long legs.

"Ah... sheesh... How are you not tired?" He complained, feeling winded. Entering a particularly long hallway, he decided to switch it up.

Lifting his gauntlet, he aimed with his visor, one eye closed shut. With a clear view, he pressed a button and out his gauntlet, a bolt of energy burst free, whizzing through the air.

She didn't notice it but the increasingly loud buzzing noise was hard to ignore. Turning around slightly, the ball hit one half of her face, breaking the mask over it. Fragments fell onto the ground like porcelain, leaving her clutching her wounded appearance.

Unbeknownst to the man, her face — once with a gruesome hole in her eye — slowly reformed, fixing it as of nothing happened. Still, it was a painful process and she never liked it.

By the time her face completely healed itself, she heard the same buzzing behind her, this time at point-blank.

"Drop it. Now." He ordered, the gauntlet placed directly behind her head. She complied, placing the cartridge onto the ground gently. "Now, turn around."

And slowly, she did. Without him noticing, she grabbed a small cylinder from her pocket, hiding it in her fist. With the mask off, the man had a full view of her face, not that it mattered though. She technically didn't exist.

His eyes widened, followed by a horrified gasp. "Oh my god, you're just a kid..."

Pressing a button, the cylinder began to beep and she dropped it onto the ground, clacking across the metal floor. Before he could react, it then exploded in a bright flash.

"AGH!" he screamed, his ears ringing. At that range, it was enough to even stun her. But she was used to it and unlike him, she recovered faster.

Lunging at him, she threw a mean punch on his stomach, causing him to lurch forward. Air forcefully squeezed out of his lungs, the blow strong enough to push him back. She then jumped with an uppercut, disorienting him, followed by a low sweep kick after dropping back down.

"Oof! Agh! Ow!" he shrieked with each blow, toppling a man of his size.

With him downed, she walked elsewhere, grabbing the cartridge on the way. The man, groaning in pain, held his chin and winced. Thankfully, nothing was broken but surprisingly enough for her size, she hit like a truck.

He growled. "Okay, that's it. Kid or not, I don't take 1v1s lightly. RAAAAH!"

While her back was turned, he swung his right arm at her. Due to his large size, however, she noticed the shadow looming over her and ducked before quickly elbowing his babies.

Literally and figuratively.

"Eeeee...!" he wheezed, falling onto his side and clutching his baby pearls.

It was funny really. At first, he was surprised due to her age, maybe even a little bit sympathetic. Now he realized... Children were devils.

"W-why? Why would you do that?" He squeaked in agony. She didn't need a why.

Still, she tried to walk away again but the man was relentless. Now he was grabbing onto her leg with one hand; the other was still between his legs.

"N-not so fast. You're u-under arrest."

She didn't respond verbally. There were many ways to end this; she could kick his head, punch his face or knee his nose till it breaks. Violent but useful. But she took the easier method and just poked him in the eyes.

"AGH SON OF A BABY SEAL!" He shrieked.

First, was his chin, then his manhood and now his looks? Why not just kick him while he's down? Get all that aggression out?

Finally, without distractions, she threw out a small box forward. Rolling a bit, the box then blipped red for a few moments. Before you knew it, the top opened and a portal popped out instantly, swirling with a purplish hue.

The man, whose eyes were still sore, stared in shock. Portal tech outside of Hinobi? "What the..." he muttered.

The portal wasn't exactly stable. Early on, it had a slight vacuum effect to it, pulling small objects in. But after a second or two, its edges became smooth and the vacuum effect disappeared. Prototypes tended to have problems.

"Gggh...!" He grunted, trying to push himself back up. But just as he got on his knees, she was already one foot through the portal.

Thinking quickly, he lifted his gauntlet and shakily aimed.

BOOSH!

Despite his testicular and ocular pains, he still shot the cartridge in her hand, blowing it into pieces. Her pupils shrank in shock but by then, she was already completely through.

Moments later, the portal collapsed on itself, pulling in the box like an ouroboros and sucking itself out of existence. All alone, the man breathed heavily, standing back up with a bit of struggle.

Whatever it was on the cartridge, he ensured that she didn't get it. Thus, her mission was a catastrophic failure. He might've not gotten anything from her but neither did she. That didn't mean they won though. She still managed to bypass their security and they had no idea how.

His right hand on his earpiece, he nervously called mission control.

"Umm, guys? Target kinda, uh... Escaped?"

"... What the gorf, Phil?!"

BZZZZZZTTT—


If there was one thing she enjoyed doing every day, it would be morning showers. Hot water raining from above, tapping on your head and shoulders like tiny dancers and later, trailing down the rest of your body. It was great! After a cold night of sleep, she just loved being warmed up this way.

Miko Kubota, the world's first Glitch girl who may or may not be Japanese-German, was prime and ready. Wearing the standard Hinobi store uniform, it was time to work the job that she loved, and that was hunting down Glitches — video game characters brought to life — and fixing various tech with a screwdriver.

It may sound ironic how she, a Glitch, was hunting other Glitches but she was different. She ate burgers and used the toilet! What Glitch did that?

"Alright, you have your lunch with you?" Her mother asked, driving her to the store.

Despite her no-nonsense attitude, Mayumi Kubota was a kind woman who cared about her family. They might not see eye to eye at times but Miko loved her mother, even after knowing they weren't related. After all, what did it say about a person who was willing to take in a homeless injured child in the middle of the night?

Miko grinned. Her mother's lunch was horrible but it's the thought that counts. "Yep!" she said, showing the paper bag.

"What about your phone?"

She shook her phone in hand. "Never go anywhere without it."

"Okay then, you're ready!" Mayumi exclaimed, gripping the car's gear control. "Sweetie?"

Miko tilted her head sideways. "Yeah, mom?"

"I love you, you know that right?"

That was... a weird thing to ask.

Miko shrugged. No need to think about it deeply. "Yeah, I know. See you at dinner!"

Miko waved as her mother drove away to her own work. The responsibilities of a parent were never-ending but Miko was glad that her mother was able to drop her off even when she's busy. That's what made her a supermom.

In any case, the first thing to do was to clock in. The very moment she stepped into the store, a message appeared on her wristband; it was an announcement. All Bailey Glitch Techs were called into the main lobby. Something urgent, it said. Well, she wanted to go there anyway. Putting on her Tech armour, she turned on the portal in the locker room and stepped in.

Immediately, she was faced with a group of Glitch Techs from all over town, many of whom she never even met before. Bailey was a big town and to cover up that much area, there needed to be a lot of Techs. Hinobi had many smaller branch stores all over the place that connected directly to the main store but she never had to visit any of them. Not when the main Hinobi store was the closest.

Everyone was mingling amongst one another, wondering what the announcement was about. Miko felt somewhat thankful that no one was paying attention to her. The whole 'being a Glitch' was way less cool once everyone started getting into your personal space.

At least she had some friends who wouldn't treat her any different. For example, Hector a.k.a. 'Five', her Techie Latino best friend. And speaking of the devil…

"Hey there, Fiver-Up! What's with the crowd?" Miko greeted, slapping him in the back harmlessly. Though, he did lurch forward slightly. Better watch her strength.

"Oh, hey Miko! Glad you could make it." He replied with his charming signature smile. "As for everyone here... Dunno. Everyone got a message to assemble down in the main lobby. Must be something important."

It should be. While Phil, her wall of a boss, was far from the manager of the year, he held some semblance of responsibility in his veins. He wouldn't use the announcement system for a prank.

Not like a certain someone… Oh look, speak of the devil, again! Wow, she was on a roll.

Right there, looking glum and annoyed as usual, was Mitch Williams — Glitch Tech's best gamer. He was a full-blown jerk as far as Miko knew but Five was utterly convinced he had a heart of gold.

Ah, Five. Flip-flopping between fanboy to hater. He was just like that.

To her surprise, there was something off about Mitch. Maybe it's the hair, or the perfume, or the blue eyepatch that made him look like a doctor-pirate. That did explain why she hadn't seen him for the past few days. "Oh, Mitch. What happened to you?"

"... Work-related accidents. That's all you need to know."

Well then, keep your secrets.

After waiting for so long, Phil finally appeared, taking centre stage. He was holding a wireless microphone and was looking positively dead inside. Probably from the coffee.

"Techs, hey. May I have your attention, please?" He called out nonchalantly through the microphone. The murmurs quiet down slowly until it was just silence. "A-hem…! As you know, I left the store for a few days for a business meeting. Don't ask what it was; it's confidential."

"Anyway, I called you down here because I've got a special announcement to make." Phil exclaimed. "Now, I know you all know Inspector 7. She comes here like once every few months. Well, she will be transferring to the east coast starting right about now."

The silent lobby instantly erupted into a torrent of discussion. Most people didn't know who Inspector 7 personally was or as she's really called, 'Barbara'. And to be fair, that only meant she did her job well. Inspectors were the playtesters and QC-handlers of the company. Very few ever get to know them more than the number.

"To replace her, the Hinobi Company has issued us a new inspector. Please give a warm welcome to Inspector 0."

From out of nowhere, a mysterious figure appeared. Wearing a skin-tight bodysuit underneath, she had a darker-shade Hinobi armour and polyester hooded jacket, covering every inch of her. A pair of white gloves hid her fingers, along with grey boots that had zero branding on top.

Nothing she wore had any indication of being publicly bought. Either she got it from Hinobi or she made it herself. However, the most striking part was the helmet underneath her thin hood — a fully-covered headpiece with a digital screen, almost like the one that Nameless dude had but with fewer edges.

For a brief moment, Miko and the figure locked eyes. She couldn't tell but Miko had a feeling this person just smiled at her.

BZZZZZZTTT—

"Subject Source Code continues to show exponential learning potential despite lacking several fundamental protocols. It was expected that nano-Plixels would have some effect but this goes beyond our existing models."

The lab coat-wearing woman tapped on the glass, garnering a response. "You're rewriting your programming, aren't you? Changing your system from its very foundations. How fascinating!"

She chuckled. It was quiet and slow as if she was impressed and yet, disappointed. But at who?

"Funny. I created you from scratch and yet, I feel like someday, I won't understand you at all. Until then, I hope I get to know you a little bit more."

BZZZZZZTTT—

Miko blinked, feeling a little light-headed. She's been getting more and more of these memories lately; some interesting, some not. This one, however, felt foreign. It had the same feeling as the first memories she unlocked but now that she thought about it, they were different than every other memory she had since.

As if they weren't hers.

Miko shook her head. If she wanted to ponder, she could do it later. This wasn't the time.

Beside Phil, the figure turned away from the crowd, her back hidden by the cloak. A few taps on her gauntlet, she summoned a small Glitch in a form of a boombox with arms and legs. She also summoned a few bullet-shaped laser pointers and handed them over to the Glitch.

For a few seconds, it was quiet. Everyone was waiting for this person to say something.

And she did in a very 'How do you do, fellow kids?' kinda way.

"HELLO, TECHIES! THE NAME'S INSPECTOR 0 BUT YOU ALL CAN CALL ME I.O.! I LOOK FORWARD TO WORKING WITH Y'ALL! XDXDXD" She greeted happily. While her legs remained in place, she twisted her upper body and faced the crowd with a pair of peace signs and a smiley emoji on her flat digital screen face, in a really weird pose. The boombox Glitch played some upbeat techno music, dancing to impress, followed by several colourful lights blaring from the laser pointers it had.

It… was weird. No one in the crowd was particularly impressed. Yet, her digital screen continued smiling robotically. ":)"

Miko coughed. "... Y-yay...?" Miko awkwardly clapped her hands, giving out a weak cheer.

":D"

Phil sighed. "Yeah... So, that's about it. You all can go back to work." He then pointed at Miko and Five. "Except you two. My office, ASAP."


Phil's office; bigger than his old office but just as bland. Still, despite leaving Bailey for several days, the room was basically spotless, exactly the way he left it. Well, with two big differences. One was the fact that someone has used his coffee machine and he had a good idea who it was. The other was the fact that the window was broken, courtesy of Mitch's 'work-related accident'.

As of the moment, there were only a handful of people in the office: Phil, Phil's temporary replacements Zahra and Mitch, the D-Team Miko and Five and finally, the new inspector a.k.a. Inspector 0. Other than Phil, everyone stood around the desk, getting themselves comfortable.

"Woah Mitch, what happened to you?" Five asked, surprised to see the top gamer injured in any way.

"Miko already asked that."

"You didn't really answer though..." Miko quietly murmured.

Zahra smirked. "Yeah, Mitch. Why don't you tell them what happened?"

"You shut your face! You weren't there!"

Phil groaned, pinching between his eyes. "A-a-ah! Quiet, you two. I haven't even gotten my coffee yet. And Zahra? Don't antagonise Mitch. Getting thrown out of the window was not mostly his fault."

She nodded. "Got it, boss."

Taking a seat and a complimentary sip of his hot Joe, Phil started speaking. "Alright, now that you're all settled; Miko, Five. I've got a mission for the two of you."

Five raised a brow. "A mission? That sounds ominous."

"It's nothing of sorts. Now then," Phil turned to Miko, all while glancing at the new Bailey Hinobi employee. "I'm sure you're acquainted."

Without further ado, Inspector 0 walked towards Miko, her screen lighting up with an emoji. "HI THERE ^‿^ A PLEASURE TO MEET YOU!" She said, lifting her arm forward.

Surprised, Miko quickly grabbed the woman's hand with her's, accepting the handshake. "You're... Inspector 0."

"AND YOU MUST BE MIKO KUBOTA. I'VE HEARD A LOT ABOUT YOU."

Miko chuckled nervously, a small blush painted on her face. "Hehe, good ones, right...?"

To be fair, a lot did happen this month and she's pretty sure one of them was her fault. So it wasn't a bad guess.

Phil continued. "Anyway, Inspector 0 is new in town so I want you two to show her around during patrol. Get her to know the place."

"An escort mission?! Ugh!" "An escort mission?! Yay!"

Miko stared at her partner, a contemptuous look on her. "How do you sleep at night?"

"With an eye mask." Five answered with a shrug.

Phil ignored the two newbies and turned to the inspector. Usually, this kind of mission wasn't a thing but she explicitly asked for it and considering that she technically outranked him, he had no reason to disagree. Even so, to pick these two trouble magnets...

"Inspector, you're fine with this? I could get some more experienced Techs instead." Phil whispered.

Inspector 0, or I.O. as she preferred to be called, clapped her hands excitedly. "I THINK IT'S WONDERFUL! BESIDES, IT WOULD BE UNFAIR TO NOT TELL THEM ABOUT THE REWARD."

Instantly, Miko's ears perked up. "Reward? What's this about a reward?"

Without another word, I.O. pulled up her gauntlet and enabled big picture mode, creating a large holographic screen of her gauntlet's interface. Swiping a bit further, she revealed her stats and achievements, including her LVL.

"BEING AN INSPECTOR HAS ITS PERKS BUT YOU NEED A LOT OF EXP TO EVEN QUALIFY. I HAPPEN TO HAVE EXTRA."

And by extra, she meant extra.

Five felt his jaw hang loose. That's a lot of zeroes. "I don't think I've ever seen numbers that big before..."

"INTERESTED? (。•̀ᴗ-)✧" I.O. winked.

He was but Five shook his head, realising something awful. "Wait a minute, this feels like bribery."

"It's not bribery — it's payment. It's a special mission so you get special pay. It's like overtime, except you get EXP instead of money." Phil explained, followed by a sigh. "Look, if you don't want it, then I'll just get someone else—"

"WE'LL TAKE IT!" Miko interjected, climbing over Five's tall shoulders. "There's these homing missiles I've been planning on getting. I already have my beginner's rocket launcher license too!"

She worked really hard on it too. She only failed, like, what? 5 times? That's still less than 6 which counted as a win. Thankfully, she could repeat the license test ad nauseam. And when Miko wanted something, she will never give up.

On I.O.'s screen, her face shifted to an even bigger smile.

"FANTASTIC! THIS WILL BE A SWELL TIME ◕ᗜ◕"


Despite being a large vehicle, the Hinobi standard-issue company van only had two 'real' seats. 'Real' as in comfortable. Those were the driver and passenger seats. And if there are more than 2 people, the poor person would be forced to sit in the back which wasn't really than nice of a place.

Thankfully, the vans were designed to be modular. The interior can be altered at just a push of a button; one of the many advantages of being made of Plixel tech. Most Techs who were issued one tend to design the backspace to be a bit more personal but rarely do they stay attached. After all, it's still company property.

For Five, he made sure the back of the van had a nice long seat and seatbelts. Sure, that meant he had to delete a few other compartments for space but so far, he never actually needed them so it was fine. Miko, who sitting in the back this time, seemed to enjoy it. Mitch's, on the other hand, was pretty much untouched. Not a single detail was customized in any way. This was why Five and Miko were able to snatch the additional gauntlets in the first place and how they found BITT.

On the road, Five the driver started talking. "So... Inspector 0? I didn't realize the numbers start from zero."

"ᶘ ͡°ᴥ͡°ᶅ ARRAYS OFTEN START WITH ZERO. THERE ARE EXCEPTIONS BUT NO ONE LIKES TO TALK ABOUT THAT."

Five blinked. "That's... Huh. You're right, actually."

When you think about it, anyone labelled as 'zero' would often mean they're special somehow. But thinking again, it could just be arbitrary. Inspectors most likely have their numbers assigned based on what was available, not because it had a deeper meaning.

Well, that's actually kinda annoying.

"AND WHAT ABOUT YOU TWO? NEWEST MEMBERS OF BAILEY GLITCH TECHS. YOU MUST HAVE SOME STORIES." I.O. asked, looking around through the windows.

Five chuckled. "Oh, it's nothing special. We just do what every other Tech does. We—"

"—KICK BUTT, THAT'S WHAT!" Miko interrupted for the second time today. "Fighting video game characters have been a blast. Like, having it as a job is just a bonus. I would've done it even if I wasn't paid."

I.O. cheered. "GREAT! I'M GLAD YOU TWO ARE ENJOYING THIS. BEING INVITED TO BE A TECH IS NO SMALL FEAT. ONLY THE BEST PLAYERS GET TO BE ONE."

"We, uh... didn't exactly get invited." Five fretfully exclaimed. "Basically, we solved a conspiracy, took down Chomp Kitty and had Mitch give us a favour. So we technically invited ourselves in."

The older woman hummed. "HMM, THAT IS QUITE IMPRESSIVE. I'M SURPRISED HE COMPLIED WITH THAT. USUALLY, YOU'D JUST GET MEMORY-WIPED." She then turned around, glancing at the girl in the back. "I'M GUESSING IT'S BECAUSE OF YOU, RIGHT?"

"… U-uh—!" She stuttered nervously.

Miko Kubota, the Glitch girl. Outside of her usual perky attitude and general Glitch-based abilities — which she's sure to have. She just doesn't know what it is yet — there was one particular power that was truly paramount, despite Miko herself not caring that much.

Miko Kubota couldn't be memory-wiped.

Under her mask, I.O. smirked. "DON'T BE SHOCKED. HINOBI HAS TAKEN AN INTEREST IN YOU AND IT'S AN INSPECTOR'S JOB TO KNOW." She then lifted her hand, as if stopping Miko from replying. "AND BEFORE YOU ASK; YES, I WAS TRANSFERRED HERE BECAUSE OF YOU ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)"

"O-oh..." She uttered with a low voice. "I'm... sorry?"

"DON'T WORRY. I VOLUNTEERED (´・ᴗ・`)" She replied, a smiling emoticon blaring on her face. "STILL, IT MUST BE SHOCKING TO JUST WAKE UP ONE DAY AND REALIZE YOU'RE NOT HUMAN."

That's usually how it goes, right? Man or woman woke up one day and discovered they're part of an alien race or maybe half robot or maybe a wizard. Then, they spent half of the story freaking out about it, followed by the other half where they 'accept their destiny' or something similarly cliché. Miko knew what the woman meant; she'd seen the movies.

Though, Miko shook her head, scratching the back.

"I guess? I mean, at first, I thought I had superpowers which would be way cooler but when you think about it, being a Glitch makes much more sense. But honestly..."

Miko stared at her hand, a nostalgic presence washing over her lightly.

"I wasn't shocked at all. It felt so... natural. I don't know why but it feels like I've known about it all my life." Miko sighed, hearing herself. She sighed. "Hah, that sounds super weird, doesn't it?"

"NO, IT DOESN'T." I.O. replied without any hesitation. Her screen face was empty, lacking the usual icons and emojis. She couldn't even see her eyes and yet, Miko could feel the woman stare into her. It felt... sad.

"NO ONE CAN JUDGE YOU ON WHAT YOU'RE GOING THROUGH. YOU'RE A UNIQUE BEING UNLIKE ANYTHING THE WORLD HAS EVER SEEN. ONLY YOU CAN TRULY DECIDE WHETHER YOUR EXPERIENCE IS 'WEIRD'."

Miko wanted to contest that, knowing that there was someone else like her but she knew that wasn't what the inspector meant. Everyone was unique in some way which made them all weird. But only you get to check on your own weirdness. Being outside of the norm doesn't make it 'weird'.

Miko smiled, feeling a lot better. "Thanks. That's really nice."

"NO PROBLEM. IT'S WHAT I DO (○・∀・)b"

She was sure whether I.O. meant that as her job or just her personality but it didn't matter. Miko was starting to like this lady a lot.

"STOP THE CAR! (ノ°Д°)ノ"

Startled, Five quickly pressed the brakes, forcing the cruising van to a screeching halt. "W-what?! What is it?! Glitch rampage?!"

I.O. shook her head. "LOOK ༼ ヮ◕༽"

There, at the end of a street, was a small artisanal sweets store. Owned by a family of immigrants from somewhere in Russia, the store sold homemade candies and treats produced on-site instead of buying and selling from large manufacturers. It's quite a hit amongst adults, mostly women in their 30s. Probably because the son of the owners was quite a looker.

Five has seen that store countless times already but never actually went in before. Outside of the occasional lollipop and jawbreakers, he didn't have much of a sweet tooth himself. He preferred eating savoury and salty snacks packaged in foil bags, heavy on flavouring powder and food colouring.

"LET'S VISIT THAT CANDY STORE. I'VE BEEN CRAVING FOR SOME SUGAR." I.O. suggested.

"W-we're kinda on a patrol right now. I don't think we should stop." Five protested. In response, the inspector chuckled sweetly.

"DON'T WORRY ABOUT IT, KIDS." She said, flashing a credit card. Not just any card at that; it was a Hinobi company platinum-rank credit card with virtually unlimited funds. Though, only to be used for company reasons.

Five gasped in awe, blinded by its majesty. He didn't think it actually existed. Even Phil didn't have one. Miko, though, was less impressed. So it's a company credit card — big deal. Both of her parents had one and they often used it during their job-vacations.

I.O. smiled. "IT'S MY TREAT (✧ꈍᴗꈍ)"


"And that's how we stopped the first video game ever from destroying a power plant and causing a statewide power outage!"

After their short stop at the candy store and purchasing a modest amount of sweets — it's for work-reasons, I.O. swore — they eventually got back on track and continued the patrol-slash-city tour. Five gained a new appreciation for artisanal candies while Miko apparently shared the same sweet tooth as the inspector.

Somehow, the woman was able to eat her sweets without taking off her mask. The duo didn't know how but never bothered to ask either.

Back in the van, Miko and I.O. had quite a conversation, the former telling all sorts of events and challenges she encountered. For example, a Glitch formed from a single pixel that was basically indestructible. She and Mitch did their best to stop it but the hero of the day turned out to be Five, riding a cool unicorn that shot an all-powerful laser.

Oh, what a day that was.

I.O. clapped her hands, genuinely impressed. "(* ゚∀゚)ノシ INCREDIBLE! WHO WOULD'VE THOUGHT OF USING 'UNI-CORP' TO DESTROY IT? INGENIOUS!"

"Hehe, it was nothing." Five replied, a small blush forming across his face.

"DON'T SELL YOURSELF SHORT, KID. YOU DID WELL, ESPECIALLY FOR A NEWBIE TECH."

Five's face brightened even further, turning red like a tomato. He had a lot of emotional problems that day relating to his dad but after dealing with it, he could proudly say he grew more as a person. Being praised by a superior for a job well done was simply the cherry on top.

Suddenly, the scanner in the van beeped loudly, alerting them of a high priority mission. Glitch Tech, while as advanced as their equipment were, couldn't predict the future. Bounties were based on Glitches that hadn't been dealt yet and weren't particularly urgent. A high priority mission alert meant two things: 1) A powerful Glitch just popped out and 2) it is already wreaking havoc.

Five tapped the van's screen, accepting the mission. "It seems we've got ourselves a Glitch on the loose. Miko!"

"Already prepped, Five!"

"MAKE SURE TO WEAR YOUR SEATBELTS."

"There are seatbelts back here?" Miko blurted, checking around. "Oh my Mario, there are seatbelts!"

Properly fastened, Five put the pedal to the metal and drove off. Using the touchscreen, he placed a marker at the target location, followed by flipping a small switch. The roof of the van flipped open, revealing a giant portal gun mounted on top. With a press of a finger, a portal was formed, leading them directly to the Glitch.

At the other side of town, another swirling portal appeared, the other half of Five's. The van passed through as smooth as butter, leaping slightly into the air and landing with a bit of a bump. He swivelled the wheel, turning the van and sliding it along the street. The rubber tires burned on the asphalt, leaving a black trail behind.

"Did somebody call for tech support?" Five announced, jumping out of his seat with his gauntlet armed and ready.

Miko nodded knowingly. It was still cool, as corny as it was.

Expecting only a single Glitch, they were in for a surprise. Instead of one big Glitch, the street was littered with countless small ones, each roughly the size of a child but none of which he was familiar with.

"What in the..." He whispered.

Through his visor, Five scanned them for any information available in the Hinobi database. Techs all have access to a database with information regarding every video game ever published by the company. Being an entertainment systems company, that meant a lot. Since Glitches only appeared from Plixel processors, it's safe to assume all Glitches were within the said database.

A few seconds later, his gauntlet beeped, having found a match. "These are called... 'Springers'. Apparently from a new game called 'SpringTown'." Five said, turning to his partner. "Have you ever played that game before, Miko?"

Miko shook her head, shrugging. "Nope. They're kinda cute in their own little weird way!"

'Weird' was putting it lightly. The Springers were basically sentient springs with a ball for a head attached on top. They had comically large eyes and an airhorn for a mouth. Outside of the different colours and a few key features, they were more or less identical.

Also, forget playing it; she hadn't even heard of it before. It wasn't surprising though since there were a lot of games she's never played before but she prided herself with being a gamer. It's just that her completionist playstyle meant each game was squeezed for hours.

Maybe she should start playing the huge backlog of games in her possession before buying more.

Five continued reading. "It says here that they get spooked easily. I guess we'll have to be careful then."

Unfortunately, the opportunity never came to pass. Before they could do anything, one of the spring-esque creatures slipped and fell into a puddle. Embarrassed and emotionally hurt, the Springer cried like a baby and thus, every Springer panicked and hopped away, crushing everything in their path.

"... Oh dipswitches. Everyone back in the van! We're chasing after them!"

Seatbelts strapped and Miko in the passenger seat, he slammed on the pedal, accelerating the van rapidly. The chase was on and the Techs were hot on their trail.

While Five manoeuvred the van, Miko popped her head out of the passenger window. With her blaster, she shot down a few of the Springers one after another. However, despite how well her aim was, none of her shots did much. One or two weren't enough against sheer numbers.

"Sheesh, it's a stampede of springs out there! I don't think my blaster's going to cut it." Miko said, disassembling a couple more. Behind her, I.O. tapped her on the shoulder. "Huh?"

"PSST! COME HERE! ~ヾ(・ω・)" She said, grabbing Miko's gauntlet with a handshake. To Miko's surprise, a loading bar appeared on her visor, rapidly filling up. "TRY THIS ON FOR SIZE."

In a few seconds, the bar hit 100% and the inspector released her grip. Miko's visor blipped as the download completed and before she could click on it, Inspector 0 stopped her halfway. "YOU'RE GOING TO NEED A BIT OF SPACE."

Seeing no reason to argue, Miko climbed out through the window and onto the van's roof. It's a good thing she bought those magnet shoes a week ago. After steadying herself, Miko tapped the new icon and in her arms, something fantastic materialized.

It was big, like really big. Imagine a thick rectangular box, roughly the proportion of a pencil case, but twice the size of a person. It was, in simplest terms, basically the thick upper part of a handgun but redesigned into a shoulder-mounted cannon. Barrel, slide, mount; all were included. Miko could barely keep herself stable trying to hold it.

It was obviously unrealistic, unwieldy and frankly ridiculous. But considering all their weapons were based on video game ones, it somewhat fits the theme.

Miko grinned. "O-hohoho! This can work." Trying her best to aim, she then took a deep breath, squeezed the trigger and braced.

The recoil was bone-breaking.

From the barrel, a cartoonishly large round boomed outwards while its equally cartoonishly large casing popping out above. As it bulldozed through the Glitches and burrowing into the ground, the bullet then burst open, shooting hundreds of pellets in every direction. Pulled by the Glitches' electromagnetic signatures, each pellet homed in on them and stuck itself onto the Glitches' bodies.

Seconds later, they all exploded.

"... Holy guacamole, that's some firepower." Miko murmured. In one shot, almost all of the Springers were de-rezzed instantaneously. 'Almost' being the key word. One lucky Springer somehow survived the blast.

Its luck didn't last though as a red-and-white ball abruptly appeared and bonked it on its head. Through the power of video game logic, the pocket-sized ball sucked Glitch in.

"Glitches— eh, Glitch halted." The Tech who threw the ball, Haneesh, said. A teen of Indian descent, he was Miko and Five's senior and a very skilled tech wiz. They did a mission together once with Zahra and it went mostly well. Alongside him was a green-haired girl, acting as his partner.

Noticing the trio approach, he waved with a smile. "Oh hey, Five! Hey, Miko!"

Miko waved back. "Haneesh! And Simi, right?"

Simi, Haneesh's partner and van driver, nodded. Miko didn't know her much but they were acquainted. "That's what they call me. Didn't realize you two were already on the case."

"Nah! The more, the merrier; am I right?" Miko exclaimed positively. "You guys can have that one. I just scored myself the highscore with this baby." She said, hugging the cannon tightly and lovingly.

Haneesh raised a brow. Having a certification to use launchers, he's read his fair share of heavy weapons. "I've never seen this model before."

"It's a custom."

Just then, the pocket ball started shaking before reopening, allowing the last Springer to escape. Before it could hop away, however, the four Techs (not including I.O.) surrounded it, holding their gauntlets on a trigger finger.

"Sorry about this, little dude, but I'll make sure to make a livestream of your game!" Miko apologized.

FSSSSSH!

Unexpectedly, the lonely Springer began glowing brightly. Its light was so strong, forcing them to look away. A few seconds later, it dimmed, leaving behind a massive evolutionary change.

"U-uh...!" Haneesh drawled out. "I-Is it supposed to be big and, uh, gold?"

"I don't think so..." Simi whispered.

What was once a pathetic little spring has now evolved into its golden form — an even bigger spring. It used to be about a third of Five's height but now, it was just about Miko's. For some odd reason, it also had very spiky hair.

This Springer had watched its entire clan be deleted. Fuelled by its pain and grief, it evolved into its final form, hoping to enact its cold revenge. Without warning, the Springer leapt high in the air, reaching several meters up. Once gravity slowed it down, it then shot itself at Five like a missile, intent on stomping him into paste.

"FIVE, LOOK OUT!" Miko yelled. Pushing him away, Miko was unable to pull up her shield in time, causing her to take the full brunt of the Springer's wrath.

BSSHRRGG!

The pavement beneath cracked, followed by clouds of dust billowing outwards and rubble flying away. Everyone struggled to stand still as the sheer power caused a minor tremor in its wake. As the dust cleared, Five could see Miko's arm while the rest of her body was planted underneath.

"MIKO!" Five shouted in horror. While distracted, the Glitch jumped straight at him, startling the traumatized boy.

Thankfully, a guardian angel just happened to be nearby. Using a shield, I.O. braced herself and blocked the assault. It was able to push her a couple of feet back but no more; I.O. immediately parried, throwing the Glitch into a lamp post.

"A GOLDEN SPRINGER. YOU FOUR ARE SURPRISINGLY LUCKY." I.O. chirped.

Briefly knocked out, the Golden Springer cleared its head with a shake and frowned angrily. Well, as best as a trumpet-mouthed ball head could frown. It then jumped up into the air, keeping itself afloat with mini-jumps.

The inspector readied herself. "BE CAREFUL. IT CAN SWITCH TRAJECTORY IN MID-AIR AND HITS LIKE A TRUCK. YOU DO NOT WANT TO BE ON THE RECEIVING END."

Five baulked with widened eyes. "Y-you don't?! Then what about Miko?!"

"RELAX, SHE'S A TOUGH GIRL. AT WORST SHE GETS A HEADACHE." She replied with a digital smile and a peace sign.

Five wanted to call her out on that, considering how much damage it did to the surroundings in one hit, but he felt inclined to believe her. Maybe it's because she's an experienced senior member or maybe it's because Miko is a Glitch herself and probably has a very durable body. Who knows?

It didn't matter though. He needed to put this Glitch down before it causes more destruction.

"Well, how do we beat it? The guide says that Springers were peaceful." Five asked, turning at the other two Techs.

Haneesh quickly raised his hands, alarmed. "Don't look at me! I've never even heard of SpringTown till today."

They then looked at Simi, who pouted as an argument. "Okay, I am playing the game but not that much. I've only clocked in at about 8 hours." She replied, implying that 8 hours wasn't much.

"IT'S A CASUAL GAME ABOUT RANCHING SPRINGS. THE RARE ONES, HOWEVER, HAVE METHODS TO EVADE CAPTURE." She explained. "THIS IS ONE OF THEM."

"Well, how do we win?!" Five frantically asked.

Speaking of the devil, the Golden Springer, wanting a rematch, finally decided its next course of action. Powered by the sheer rage and revenge of an edgy teen ninja, it continued its assault and rocketed towards I.O. with malicious intent. The inspector, on the other hand, wasn't concerned.

"THE SAME WAY YOU BEAT ANY OTHER GLITCH." Just as the Glitch was getting near at Mach speeds, Inspector 0 jumped and twirled over it, missing just by mere inches. From her gauntlet, a simple baseball bat then materialized in her hand, giving a blueish glow.

Her grip on the weapon tightened.

"YOU HIT IT REALLY HARD."

BSHRRGG!

And that's when a second crater appeared beside the first one. Smaller but still a dip in the hard pavement.


BZZZZZZTTT—

Left jab. Right swing. Low sweep.

Clearly trained but too predictable. Her opponent wasn't fast enough and for each move, she hesitated. The Director was watching but wasn't impressed. Those uncaring eyes simply skimmed over their spar but the Director was no fool. If this continued, he'd notice.

She can't hold back.

CRACK! "AAAAHH!"

Stay down. Just this once, stay down.

"Controlled sparring over. Winner: M-1."

BZZZZZZTTT—

In the impact crater nearby, Miko woke up. The hit from the Glitch had knocked her unconscious for a moment, like falling down a flight of stairs. Wherever she was, it was dark and really hard to move. Slowly and steadily, Miko shook the rubble off of her, her head still ringing from the blow.

"Ugh, that was something..." Miko groaned, her whole body aching. Moving slightly, she felt a sharp sting on her arm, causing her to hiss. "Oo yep, that's pain. That's pain. That's a lot of pain."

Her right arm did not look good, bent in a way it shouldn't, much to her horror. Miko's never actually been to a hospital before but even she knew this was so going to mess up her reaction time. And she needed that for Rhythm Heaven!

Suddenly, she heard a voice from her head. "DAMAGE DETECTED. INITIATED."

"R-Repair what?" she croaked. Before she got an answer, her hair started glowing purple and to her utter terror, Miko was forced to watch as purple veins appeared along her broken arm and dramatically snap it back to place.

If that was supposed to be painful, she was super glad she didn't feel it because wowsers, did it look like it hurt a lot.

After half a minute, the purple glow from her hair and veins disappeared, leaving her with a fully intact and unbroken appendage. Miko checked her fingers and elbow; not a single part felt numb at all. "Woah..."

Before she could ponder any further, a strong blast boomed from outside her crater, reminding her of what happened. "That's right! Lemon-squeezy spring thing! I'mma coming, Five!"

Back at the battlefield, the Techs were taking turns hitting the Golden Springer as it landed nearby. Their strategy was simple; wait for the Glitch to fly towards them, dodge it, hit it before it could hop away, and repeat.

Glitches, being literal programs, were designed with simple conditional loops. So long as certain conditions were fulfilled, the loops continued. It didn't matter if it lost health or anything. It would just repeat certain actions when triggers were met. In this case, the Golden Springer picked a target and hit them really hard.

Also, this one came from a game about ranching springs. Having a complex moveset wasn't part of its design.

Just as it missed another Tech, Five blasted out a bolt of energy from a fully-charged gauntlet, toppling it down like a plank. "Yeah, keep at it! At this rate, we'll take it down in no time!"

"Five!"

Hector 'Five' Nieves quickly turned around, startled but beaming at her condition. "Miko, you're alright!" He shouted happily.

He was genuinely worried about her and to see her unharmed put his heart at ease. Though, her armour was severely messed up. Still, that's a whole lot better than her skeleton being messed up.

Did Miko have a skeleton? He'd have to ask Zahra about that.

Morale boosted and full of optimism, Five pushed for the finish line. "Alright Techs, gauntlets out! Give it everything you've got!"

This time, it was an all-out attack. Just as the Golden Springer was about to charge at them again, Inspector 0 swiftly appeared beside it in mid-air and with a strong swing, she batted the Glitch onto the ground in an almighty crash.

Before it could get back up, the rest of Techs focused fire on the grounded enemy, breaking up its physical Plixel form and slowly absorbing its energy. In roughly a full minute of hard struggle, the Glitch finally shrunk down as its spring form collapsed, revealing the base Glitch underneath.

Immediately before it could run away, Simi captured the base Glitch with her gauntlet, the tech pinging a job well done. After a long few minutes, it was finally over. "Alright! We did it!"

Five sighed, feeling relief over it. He didn't expect the first Glitch of the day to be such a miniboss. Stretching his back, he then turned to his sole partner. "Miko, you alright? You got a direct hit back there."

Miko nodded, swinging her arm around. "Yep, totally fine. See? Not even a scratch."

"'Not even a scratch'? Do you not see your armour? It's busted." Simi interjected. Glitch Tech armour was shock-absorbent, so it would take a lot to actually damage it.

"Here, let me fix you up." She offered.

Seeing no reason to refuse, Miko removed her banged-up armour and handed it over to Simi. Unlike weapons, Glitch Tech armour was physical. Technically, one could summon it at any time with a gauntlet but it really existed and took up space. This meant it had to be repaired for real.

While Simi and Miko focused on fixing up her gear, Five walked by his senior. "Hey, uh, Inspector 0?"

"YOU CAN CALL ME I.O.. IT'S WAY SHORTER."

"Oh! Uh... Just wanted to say"— he then pulled out his hand. —"Thanks for the help."

Under the helmet, the inspector smiled and shook back. "NO PROBLEM. TECHS ARE SUPPOSED TO HELP OTHER TECHS. IT'S CO-OP, NOT VERSUS :)"

Back at the female duo, Simi finally finished repairing the protective gear. It wasn't actually hard considering their level of technology. "There we go. Good as new. Plus, it's got a bit of Simi charm on it too."

Underneath, it was pretty much identical to Miko's old armour but with minor kinks. Smaller shoulder pads, a flatter chest plate, and so on. Plus, it had a short jacket over it with two green stripes going from sleeve to bottom, creating a cross mark.

Miko, who had quickly donned it, twirled around in style. "Ooo, nice! Love the jacket. It kinda looks like Zahra's."

"A little bit based on it. But I added a dash of green to stand out." Simi replied, implying that two large stripes were just a dash.

Before they could celebrate any further, all four gauntlets (not including I.O.'s) beeped simultaneously, notifying them of a new Glitch activity nearby.

"Seems like the work's never done. Come on, Techs. Let's head on out." He exclaimed with a smile. To his surprise, the only ones with him were Inspector 0 and Miko. Nearby, Simi and Haneesh were already revving up their van.

"Sorry, Five. But we're taking this one. Ciao Bellas!" Haneesh announced, leaving the others in their dust.

Five chuckled. Classic Haneesh. I.O., however, slapped him in the back. "YOU'RE NOT GOING TO LET THEM BEAT YOU, ARE YOU?"

The tall boy raised a brow. "What happened to this being co-op?"

"A WHOLE TEAM WINS BUT ONLY ONE GETS TO MVP."

Well, that was enough motivation. Grinning in glee, the two Techs Five and Miko ran straight to their van. After all, no game pumped adrenaline more than a racing one.


BZZZZZZTTT—

Somewhere in a dark room, stood two figures. One was a middle-aged woman wearing a lab coat while the other was a literal hologram whose features were hidden beneath his own shadows.

"Professor."

"Director."

The figure known as the Director smiled. "I see you're working hard in the labs. You must be taking our little bet seriously."

"How could I not? You claimed that my expertise is no longer needed. I disagree."

True, that was what he claimed. After all, she did already provide him with partially what he wanted. It wasn't complete but he could hire any other scientist to fill in the gaps. The head researcher, the Professor, said otherwise.

"I've seen the development. M-1, was it?" He recalled. "I'm impressed. It's growing exponentially. Just a month ago it couldn't walk and now, it's running on walls."

The Professor scoffed. "You wanted mindless drones that would follow your every whim. I gave you a digital new lifeform."

The Director sighed. "Which is more than I asked for but you continue to surprise me despite our... disagreements."

Afterwards, his holographic form disappeared, only to reappear just a few meters away. This time, however, there was another figure next to him, having stood in the darkness during their spitting. The tile beneath lit up, revealing the new person's form.

It was a little girl. A so familiar little girl.

Frustrated, the Professor bit her lower lip.

"Professor, meet M-2. The other researchers were able to do a good job with the framework you gave." The holographic man stated. "I'm sure it'll be of use to you."

He then turned to the girl, motioning her forward. She hesitated for a moment before slowly taking a step.

"M-2, meet Professor Misaki. She's your creator."

BZZZZZZTTT—

Ugh, those damn visions again. For some reason, M-2's been having more and more of these ever since her mission began. She didn't know why but she had a feeling it's because of a certain lookalike. However, unlike her, M-2 knew the context of these visions; she was there, after all, each one leaving a bitter taste in her mouth.

With no way of avoiding it, the best she can do was just to ignore it. No need to bring up the past with the Director.

While that vision struck, M-2 was doing her usual surveillance. Sure, putting cameras all over the place made it easier to keep track of her target but it kinda took the fun out of it. All she did was watch a bunch of screens and follow M-1's movements. Occasionally, she'd spy on other Techs as well and fill up reports on their activities.

So this was how she's spending her time, huh?

"Boring... Boring... Boring..." M-2 groaned, her head lazily resting on her hand as it supported her by the cheek. So far, nothing interesting has happened which could be said about most days.

To her surprise, however, today was not like most days. While following Miko's boyfriend's van through the cameras, she noticed a peculiar figure in the passenger seat.

"What the...?!" M-2 exclaimed, baffled. Some unknown masked woman was sitting next to him and she was very sure she'd never seen her in the files. "Who the fuck are you supposed to be?"

RING RING RING!

Before she could delve further, her phone rang and startled the Glitch girl out of her stupor. Quickly, she grabbed hold of it and checked the number.

There was only one number and it belonged to the person who bought her the phone.

"Hey, Meico! How's it going?" Miko greeted cheerfully. Still in her Hinobi uniform, she was currently at home after being dropped off by Five. Really, she could've just taken the bus but Five and, surprisingly enough, Inspector 0 were adamant about it.

"What do you want?" M-2 or Meico's voice came out from the Japanese girl's phone.

"What, can't I just call? You know, just to talk?"

That was a lie. Meico knew it was a lie and so did Miko. There was no fooling anyone.

"Do you want to hang out? We should totally hang out. I can bring you to my favourite arcade—"

"No thanks." Meico replied before ending the call with a tap. She sighed, wondering what her mission had devolved into.

After their first official and non-violent meeting at a small café, Miko had been quite persistent with her. At first, she wanted to give her number to Meico but then realized the doppelgänger didn't have a phone of her own. Most people would just move on from that.

Not Miko though. She had been saving funds for video game-related purposes but after hearing that, bought a good quality smartphone for Meico instead. She emphasized at the phone having a decent cooling capability and large memory, making it perfect for mobile gaming, but it wasn't like Meico was a gamer herself. She only had like one game on it.

It was Chomp Kitty: Mobile and she's now top 12 in the global leaderboards but that wasn't the point.

RING RING RING!

As she was about to continue her surveillance, her phone chimed once more, forcing her to answer.

"Heeeey there, my sister from another mother! Or same… mother… I don't really get our family relationship. So, oh boy do I have a story to tell you! Yesterday, I had a dre—"

CLICK! Second call in and it was already annoying.

This was a routine now. Miko would frequently call her and talk about her day while Meico was forced to begrudgingly listen because the alternative would be the chirpy wall-eyed teen walking here in person. That was far worse. Sure, she did learn a lot of information about M-1's 'human' day-to-day lifestyle but most of it was just fannying about so that didn't help.

RING RING RING!

Augh, again?!

CLICK!

"Please don't hang up, please DON'T HANG U—"

CLICK!

She hung up.

RING RING RING!

CLICK!

M-2 growled. "I swear to Turing, if you call me one more time, I'll shove this phone up your a—!"

"What's Subject Source Code?"

The Glitch girl paused, her breath hitched unintentionally. "... Where did you hear that?"

"From my visions. I've been having a few of them." Miko replied. "I can't really talk about it to anyone, y'know? Anyone, well, except you."

M-2, or Meico, sighed. Pinching the bridge between her eyes, she first took a deep breath and then let it all out.

"... Where do you want to meet?"


"A burger shack. Out of all the places you could've picked, you chose a burger shack."

Meico, wearing her incognito glasses, expected better. She really did. Sure, the last place they hung out together wasn't exactly top-of-the-line but it was at least better than a fast-food chain. Especially one this messy.

She almost stepped on some chilli. Already, she wanted to leave.

"Not just any burger shack! Jonesy's Sloppy Meats! The best burger shack in town!" Miko exclaimed with glee. "Period. Exclamation mark."

"... Did you just say 'exclamation mark'?"

"Sorry, I misclicked."

"We're talking in person—!"

Meico was promptly ignored as Miko ran off, annoying her further. No point on arguing any longer, Meico dragged her feet behind the hyperactive girl, claiming a table.

Jonesy's Sloppy Meats was an American classic, selling famous chilli sandwiches for decades. Despite its rustic and otherwise dirtied look, this restaurant chain was over 3 decades old with its owner being a literal billionaire. People just loved the idea of going to a muddy steak shack for lunch, even though it was anything but that.

Meico, however, just wasn't feeling it. "I don't see why we didn't go to that coffee shop."

Miko laughed nervously, scratching the back of her head. "Yeah! Well... I kinda forgot to pay and I'm kinda scared of going back for a bit. Hehe..."

Figures. Not like she could complain; she didn't pay either.

"Now then," Meico began, lowering her glasses slightly. "Tell me everything about these visions of yours."

Miko nodded. "Okay, so, I was in this weird underground facility and was being chased by some dude. Then, he shot me in the face and I escaped by blowing up the roof!"

...

...

Meico raised a brow. Well, that was one way to start. But it wasn't the reason why she came here. Patiently, she waited for Miko to continue her story but the girl had nothing left to say.

"... That's it?" Meico asked.

"Well, it was the first one."

"That had nothing to do with what you called me for." Meico stated with an annoyed tone. "But if I were to guess, I'd say it was one of the missions you got sent to. Corporate sabotage, maybe."

Miko's eyes widened. "Missions? I went to missions?"

"Well, duh. You're a weapon. Weapons go on missions." Meico replied as a matter of fact.

"Oh..."

Miko didn't really understand it yet or maybe the implication bothered her. But to M-2, that wasn't going to do. With her having no memory of her past, an explanation was the least she could provide. Pulling her chair closer, M-2 started her long speech.

"Let me give you a scenario, M-1; imagine a city full of radio signals, power lines and fibre optic cables. Data transferring by the terabytes. And in every house is a nano-Plixel processor. Let's say in one of these houses is a politician or a terrorist or an internet troll you don't like.

"In a snap, an M-series autonomous avatar gets deployed in their bedroom, kicks ass and disappears without a trace. The same Plixel tech that helped them do their dirty deeds ends up crossing them off the list."

Noticing how uncomfortable Miko was becoming, M-2 grinned. She leaned forward, both elbows on the table, propping up her cheeky smile.

"That is what we are. In a world full of Plixel-based technology, we're basically instant military, courtesy of a single company." She finished with a toothy grin. "Isn't that grand?"

"T-that sounds kinda scary."

"You'd think that, wouldn't you?" Meico replied before pulling herself back, letting her chair tilt backwards at an angle. "Well, I'm not scared. The mass-produced models are chumps. Dumb as a bag of rocks, those things are. We're basically Terminators compared to them."

Those models weren't like the two of them. They were missing a vital piece, something she and Miko had. At least, that's what she heard the lab rats say in their offices. M-2 didn't know what it was and had wondered before as to why they didn't just copy it off of her but… She had an inkling that they simply couldn't.

Not that it mattered to her. If there's something in them that they want and can't get, then hey! That's more power to her!

As the discussion continued, a waiter walked up to them, wearing an apron that looked like it came from the butcher. This, unfortunately, was part of the restaurant's uniform. Not that it bothered him.

"Hello there and welcome to Jonesy's Sloppy Meats! What can I get such a beautiful lady on this fine afternoon?" He asked, a notebook and pen in his hands.

Meico shrugged. "A strawberry milkshake." She said, causing the waiter to stare and blink. He hadn't notice someone else was here.

"Uh… we don't sell those here, ma'am."

Hearing that, Meico clicked her tongue. "Tch, and the day gets worse."

"You know what? Fuck it, I'll take whatever. M-1, tell me the relevant vision this ti—" Suddenly, she stopped. With clenched teeth, Meico growled. "We're being watched."

Not wanting to stay any further, Meico quickly grabbed Miko's hand and dragged her away in a brisk fashion. Surprised, Miko even almost unintentionally left her wallet behind.

"W-what the— Hey!" Miko complained as she was dragged away. "I haven't even ordered it yet!"


So far, Miko was starting to get annoyed by her lookalike's rough behaviour. As they strolled along the pedestrian path, Meico held a tight grip on her wrist for the past minute and it was really uncomfortable.

"S-stop pulling me!" Miko yelled, stopping them on their tracks and pulling her hand away. She inspected her sore wrist. Hopefully, it wasn't strained. "What the boosh, girl?!"

Meico ignored her as she inspected the surrounding buildings on the block. "We need a place with a lot of noise — the electric kind. Got one in mind?"

Noise? That's an oddly specific description. Outside of Glitch Tech HQ and probably the electronics section of a superstore, she did have one place. "The arcade, maybe? It's got a lot of machines there."

"That's stupid"— Meico spat. —"But there's a lot of people around there so it'll help. Come on."

Miko puffed her cheeks. She was just trying to help.

Without pause, they walked straight to the nearest arcade which just so happened to be Miko's favourite arcade — the same one she wanted to invite Meico to. The Sisters of Fate were mysterious, indeed. It's such a shame she forgot her bag of tokens.

Entering through the front, Miko was greeted with a familiar sight. Rows of arcade machines lined up and side-by-side with a dark carpeted floor designed to hide whatever nasties that occurred 2-4 years ago. Really, though; don't touch the carpet.

To her surprise, a bespectacled co-worker of hers happened to be there as well, wearing a striped black-and-white polo shirt. "Hey, Miko! How's it going?"

"Nix! What a surprise!" Miko greeted back. Nix was her senior and he was crazy good with Plixel modelling. They weren't that close but she knew he's part of the team that oversees their base's security. This was how he figured out the security flaw in their new upgraded systems. "W-what are you doing here?"

"... I work here. I'm the scorekeeper."

"I thought you work at the store."

"People can have two jobs, Miko." He retorted, not like that helped. Hinobi already paid their Techs well above minimum wage. "Anyway, I heard that you gave the new inspector a grand tour of Bailey. That must've been exciting!"

Smiling, Miko nodded. "Yep! Well, kinda. We got ourselves into some trouble with some Glitches but I.O. helped us out."

"I.O.?"

"Yeah, that's what the inspector wanted us to call her. It's shorter than just saying 'Inspector 0'."

Nix shrugged. She was technically correct — the best kind of correct. He wanted to continue the conversation, curious about the nature of their new inspector but then a voice beside her appeared.

"We gotta move. Now." Meico said before briskly walking forward, pushing the other patrons to the side.

Back on the move, Miko quickly pressed her hands together and nodded. "Sorry about that, Nix! Gotta go fast!"

"H-hey!" Nix called but fell to deaf ears. In seconds, Miko was gone, her form concealed by the crowd. Nix scratched his head, confused by their unplanned meeting. "Guess she was busy… Wait, who was that with her?"


"In here." Meico pointed, marching into the back room. Once Miko was inside, Meico picked up a nearby rebar and forcefully bent it around the doorknobs like it was plastic, locking the entrance shut. "There, that should hold it for a while."

While Meico was busy closing off the door they strolled through, Miko was left upset. She went out of her way to get close to Meico and then out of nowhere, the girl dragged her to some abandoned hall directly behind the arcade? And Miko bought her a phone!

"Alright, can you please tell me what's going on?" Miko hissed in irritation. Briefly looking around, however, Miko was left awed and surprised. "Woah...! I haven't been here in ages."

"You know this place?" Meico asked, done with the reinforcements. She pushed a broken vending machine towards the door for good measure.

Miko nodded. "Yep! A loooong time ago! My parents brought me to this girl's — Aileen Staropolis's — birthday. They wanted me to try and make friends.

"Then it came to the gift-giving session. See, this place used to have this wicked animatronics show. It was state-of-the-art." As she recalled the past event, Miko's smile slowly shifted around. She looked down with sullen eyes, kicking a small rock in response. "But then I ruined it..."

"… What happened?"

Miko sighed dejectedly. "I... don't know. When the animatronic came out, I got shivers and my body just moved on its own. Next thing you know, I ripped its head off with my bare hands and tried to play it as a gift." She explained, her arms moving along the tale. Miko let out a rueful laugh. "She was not happy, I can tell you that. Haven't been invited to another birthday party since."

Meico raised a brow. She had a feeling this all happened because of M-1's well-trained reflexes and primary directives. She identified a threat and quickly neutralized it in the most efficient way possible. It was as simple as that. After all, how else would a little girl destroy an animatronic with her bare hands? Even the average adult could barely do it themselves.

Still, the moment that rush ended, Miko quickly realised that everything went horribly wrong. Miko still remembered their stares.

Meico rolled her eyes. "What, don't you have other human friends?"

"Oh, I wish! But!... I'm homeschooled. I was just"— Miko wiggled her fingers. —"weird. I've only been to school for a couple of years. There's a few I keep in touch but we're not that close."

So that's how it was, huh. Meico couldn't help but scoff at Lil' Miss Dramatic.

"Well, isn't that just pathetic." She said with venom before muttering something else under her breath. "At least you have friends..."

Miko's ears twitched, having heard that clearly. For some reason, she wanted to reach out and comfort the girl.

She never got the chance.

All of a sudden, the decrepit roof burst apart, showing the room with debris. The two quickly stepped back, narrowly avoiding the bits of old wood and rusted metal. At the epicentre, dust clouds rushed outwards in all directions, leaving Miko coughing painfully as the dirt flooded her lungs.

There, from the hole in the ceiling, three figures jumped down, landing heavily one by one in a V-formation. Even behind the dust, the two girls could clearly see the glowing red eyes within. As the new figures emerged into view, Miko's jaw dropped.

They looked exactly like her but white. White hair, white clothes; even the skin was pale as ash. Other than sharing her plump body type, they basically sanitized compared to Meico. Plus, they had these ugly metal goggles too.

The middle of the three then stepped forward and scanned the two girls. Her voice was monotone and robotic, so unlike the happy-go-lucky Tech. "Designation: M-1 and M-2 located. Moving on to the primary objective."

Meico clicked her tongue. "Tch, shit. It's the M-3s."

"The M-what?!" Miko exasperatedly shouted.

Before she could say anything else, the middle member dashed straight at her without delay. Miko hurriedly raised her arms to block it but to the surprise of the machine, a fist abruptly appeared and hit it square in the face, sending it flying across its compatriots and into a pile of old parts.

"M-1 is my mission." The owner of the fist, Meico, growled. "I don't know why you dolls are here but you can go fuck yourself."

The M-3, as it's called, didn't respond. Standing back up from the pile, it shifted its head sideways, popping its neck. "Readjusting threat level..."

All the M-3s' goggles beeped and now returned in a row, the trio lunged in sync and immediately surrounded Meico.

Their attacks were relentless and perfectly synchronized. It was as if they could read each other's minds. But Meico, having been trained in combat for years, wasn't going to take it like a chump.

People were unpredictable. They might follow certain patterns but they adapted. That's what made them difficult. She fought hand-to-hand against one and with a bitter taste, she had to admit; even she knew she couldn't beat him back then.

It took two tries but she learned since then.

One by one, Meico slugged each of these dolls in the head. In an instant, she snatched the advantage they once held and returned the favour, blowing them all away. They got a few good hits on her but it'll take more than that.

With a tap of her bracelet, it transformed into her tech and straightaway, she materialized a heavy hardened gauntlet in one hand. "If you bots aren't gonna go back to the lab rats right now, then I'll make sure you'll go back in pieces."

They did not react. Just like before, their goggles beeped. But unlike before, their tactics changed. Two of the M-3s charged at her in a futile attempt to overwhelm. With a third staying back, their chances of winning lessened considerably.

But that wasn't the plan.

The last M-3 flicked her wrist as small arcs of electricity jumped over her palm. While Meico was distracted, it ran and somersaulted over her, landing right behind, and flashed her negatively charged hand towards her.

Instinctively, Meico grabbed its wrist. Turning her head, she growled. "I warned you."

CRACK!

With just her elbow, Meico snapped the machine's arm in two and using the dangling limb, she spun it around and hit the other two, throwing them across the room. The M-3s crashed in a terrific display, pushing a nearby pile of chairs tumbling down onto them.

Meico huffed and clapped the dirt off her hands. "Tch, how useless."

Miko, who watched the whole ordeal, stood frozen. Nervously, she breathed out. "S-sheesh, I'm starting to see how you almost beat us last time."

"Please, I could've beaten you any time. You were just lucky."

Miko turned to the pile of broken furniture. "Wait, these M-3s, they were sent by your group, right? Wouldn't it bad for you if they snitched?"

It would. That was left unsaid but they both knew it. Yet, her cheeks felt warm for some reason and she didn't want Miko to see that.

"It's fine. I can handle it." Meico replied, still avoiding her gaze. "Let's split. You can tell me about that vision of yours later."

Behind her, the pile of junk shook slightly. A pair of probes then shot out from the pile, beelining towards the duo. Just inches to impact, Meico snatched it in mid-air, stopping the projectiles dead on its tracks.

"I'm honestly getting sick of you little sh—!" Before she could finish, a high voltage current travelled along a wire, jumping straight to the probes. Like a taser.

"AAAAAAHHHH!" Meico screamed as electricity coursed through her body, shocking her nerves down to its core.

It lasted only for a moment but the damage was done. Meico, her body unresponsive, plopped down onto her knees. Her vision blurred, she was barely keeping awake, unable to move even her fingers.

"MEICO!" Miko yelled, worriedly grabbing her before she could fall over. Subsequently, the M-3s all emerged from their corner, though one was holding onto its disfigured arm and breathing raggedly.

"Danger neutralised. Proceeding to extraction." One of them said.

As it walked forward with an outstretched arm, Miko swiftly got in-between. She formed her gauntlet and summoned a pair of twin pistols, aiming directly at it.

"Don't you even dare!" Miko growled, her purple eyes shining briefly. "I won't leave her! Not again!"

BZZZZZZTTT—

"Where are you going?" A little girl asked. She had shoulder-length short hair and cutest and squishiest cheeks in the world. "M-1?"

Her lips quivered. It's s hard. Why was this so hard?

"I'm... going on a mission. Don't worry about it."

A lie.

"I didn't get any notice of that."

"It's confidential."

Another lie.

"Oh..." She murmured sadly. "That makes sense. Even under lockdown, huh? I'm... I'm just no good, am I?"

She stopped. By company standards; then no, she wasn't any good. She didn't know what to say.

She did, however, notice her holding her arm awkwardly. "Your arm. Is it... okay?"

The girl perked up. "Oh yeah, it's fine! I guess when you can just rewrite the damaged code, fixing is super easy."

"I see..." she sighed. "I'm... sorry about what happened back in the arena. I didn't mean it."

The little girl smiled. "It's okay. You were just trying to look good in front of the Director."

She was but that wasn't the full reason. The Director had expectations; if she fulfilled it, nothing happens. If she didn't, then...

"So, when will you be back?"

She shrugged. "Dunno."

"Make sure you come back safe, okay?!" The girl ordered.

She didn't smile at first. It wouldn't be real. But she needed this, so her lips curved upwards.

"I promise."

Just a lie.

BZZZZZZTTT—

Twin pistols at point-blank. What were the odds of the vampire-hers to successfully dodge this close? Still, that wasn't a risk Miko was willing to take. At half-trigger, her weapons began charging.

The grey-skinned girl took a step forward.

"I'D RATHER NOT YOU DO THAT TO MY JUNIOR, THANK YOU VERY MUCH."

Eyes widened, Miko watched as the light beside her shimmered. A humanoid figure rippled to existence as the disguise slowly wore off. Two things Miko noticed: the strong grip on the M-3's shoulder and the proud Hinobi logo adorned on the person's outfit.

"SALUTATIONS ( -ω-)ゝ" Inspector 0 greeted, her digital screen flashing a smiling emoticon. "I APOLOGIZE FOR CRASHING IN BUT AS A SENIOR GLITCH TECH AND INSPECTOR, I HAVE A DUTY TO UPHOLD."

Immediately, the M-3 leapt back, slapping away I.O. hand and keeping a distance. Its goggle beeped, the lenses flickering red. "Readjusting threat level… Chance of success: 3%. Recommended action… retreat."

One of the M-3s — the one who wasn't injured — pulled out a disc and placed it on the ground. Its lid flicked open and a portal surged to life. Without another word, the three lookalikes walked away, emotionless as ever. As the portal closed, one of them looked back with an empty stare, only to turn away at the last second.

The attack was over.

I.O. smiled underneath her helmet. "( °x° ) WELL, THAT WORKED OUT PRETTY WELL. ARE YOU IN NEED OF MEDICAL ASSISTANCE, MISS KUBO—?"

C-C-CRACK!

Just as she turned, a fist rammed itself into her helmet, cracking the screen and slamming her into the ground. The concrete floor exploded into a miniature mushroom cloud with specks of grey dust flowing upwards and all over the room.

Meico just punched Inspector 0. Her possibly-sister just punched her bigger-boss.

Miko could only stare in pure dread.

"MEICO, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!" Miko screamed.

The Glitch girl cursed. "Shit, I flinched back there. Well, at least he-she-they here won't go and report." At least, Meico hoped so.

"OH MY, SUCH A STRONG PUNCH."

No…

In a comical fashion, Inspector 0 burst out of the rubble in a 90° tilt, all whilst standing perfectly still. Her once-pristine helmet had a sizable crack on its side, causing her screen face to flicker and buzz. Since that was the only place Meico hit, the inspector looked mostly unharmed.

Meico panicked, her breathing turning rapid. She put everything she had in that sucker punch. Was she too affected by the taser? She couldn't think it through as her vision became blurrier and blurrier. She needed to head back now.

One step.

Two steps.

Three.

When did the ground get so close?


"I CAN TELL THAT YOU'RE MAD AT ME."

That was an understatement.

"Mad? MAD?!" Miko yelled angrily. "She was injured and you just arrested her! What is wrong with you?!"

After Meico fell unconscious, Inspector 0 decided to kidnap her and place her in one of the HQ's spare rooms, much to Miko's protest. It wasn't like the base had any holding cells; Hinobi sold electronics for crying out loud. Even if their own Techs misbehaved, they didn't get detention — they get suspended without pay. That's how businesses work.

Though for added security, Inspector 0 modded the locks to only open with her level of clearance. This basically meant her, the manager and anyone she allowed. For example, Miko.

Still, bringing the person into the same facility where she attempted to steal some highly confidential documents, injuring several other Techs in the process, wasn't a good idea. Injured or not, Miko understood full well what that entailed.

"SHE IS TECHNICALLY AN ENEMY OF HINOBI. IT'S MY DUTY AS AN INSPECTOR TO UPHOLD THE STANDARDS AND SAFETY OF FELLOW TECHS AND EMPLOYEES." I.O. tried to reason. "YOU MUST UNDERSTAND; I'M DOING THIS FOR YOUR WELL-BEING."

Miko looked freaked out as if she was about to pull out her hair. "How is this supposed to be 'for my well-being'?! This hardly counts as a good thing!"

"I… APOLOGIZE. IT WAS NOT MY INTENTION TO HURT YOU."

Miko didn't doubt that which made it ever more frustrating. The Glitch girl groaned, covering her face with her palm in a vain effort to hide her wasted noises. "She's never going to trust me again…"

"MIKO…" Inspector 0 called quietly. "WHILE YOU MIGHT DISAGREE WITH ME, I DO BELIEVE THIS IS BEST FOR YOU. BEST FOR THE BOTH OF YOU."

Miko continued to stare at the unconscious girl lying on the soft bed. She snorted. "How would you know that?"

She looked away, the crack on her helmet still visible. "THERE'S A LOT I KNOW, MS KUBOTA. MORE THAN YOU THINK."

Nothing else to say, the inspector left the two alone, giving them some privacy. Unbeknownst to either of them, her damage on her headwear finally reached its limit as a small piece broke off. For the inspector, all she could think of was that she should get that fixed as quickly as possible.

What neither of them noticed, however, was the small strand of purple hair sticking out of the crack.


Meanwhile, in a darkened room, a pale girl stood in front of a display. Her goggles had been removed, revealing a pair of gear-like pupils, spinning by the tooth. On the large screen display, a shaded figure stood within.

"So, let me get this straight." The mysterious figure known as the Director began. "M-2 has been captured by a Hinobi inspector and an M-3 unit is currently damaged. Is that correct?"

The machine nodded. "Yes, Director. As per request, we had been keeping a close eye on M-2 and ensure it is following its directives."

"But it fought back, all to protect M-1. Or maybe because it wanted to protect its mission." The Director hummed. "Still, that doesn't justify revealing yourselves."

"You have given us permission to engage should M-1 saw us." It replied almost instantaneously.

"Under specific conditions where M-1 would be a threat. Not… this. A shame your programming is limited." The Director griped. On-screen, a glass of clear golden liquid materialized in one's hand. The liquid swirled smoothly around its transparent cup. The Director took a sip, only to frown.

"You know, I really miss the taste of bourbon. The spiciness with a hint of caramel and fruit. Now, all I taste is static. What a fickle woman..." The Director said out loud with a sigh. "Still, this isn't necessarily a negative development. We already know how to access their base."

"Authorization to enact a rescue operation?"

"Denied for now. Whatever walls they put M-2 in won't be enough. The good news however would be M-2's continued interaction with M-1. I knew full well it couldn't stop itself."

M-2's 'reconnaissance mission' was just a farce, really. While the information they extracted from her temporary base was useful, it wasn't actually needed. No, the real reason she was sent there was for the sake of being there. Because if the program was around, then she'd naturally come in contact with M-1. There would be fights and maybe even spectacles if M-2 messed up but that was a good thing.

If the two were together, then that meant the last piece wasn't far behind.

"Continue your presence in the city until further notice. Right now, all we can do is wait until she takes the bait."


BZZZZZZTTT—

"I'm sorry… for creating you… You shouldn't have existed…"

BZZZZZZTTT—

How many years has it been since she said that? How many years since she regretted it? Her mind wasn't in the right place that night and she did her best to fix her mistakes with the next one. And yet, she just made more.

Her recordings, it showed her true feelings during their time spent together. Was it cruel of her to extract these memories from her own creation and play them like a Saturday night TV show? Who could say, really? Not a lot of people could claim to have stood in her shoes, creating life from a new piece of technology whose properties were still being experimented on.

Beep… Beep… Beep… Beep…

Nearby, a small bulb began flashing, releasing that insistent noise. That… wasn't right. The signal shouldn't be active; the triggers were impossible. The only way for the light to come to life would be if either M-1 or M-2 were close to Sou—

Masaki gasped. "Girls?"